Tribe sinks $7M into refurbishing Oklahoma racetrack

By Murry Evans
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma (AP) August 2010

A subsidiary of the Chickasaw Nation has spent more than $7 million in recent months to restore Remington Park, a top official with the track’s ownership group said August 10.

Even as horses went through morning workouts on the racetrack, construction workers continued buzzing around the 22-year-old facility to complete the initial stage of renovations before the opening of the track’s annual thoroughbred met August 12.

Remington Park once was considered one of the nation’s finest racing facilities, and “it’s so gratifying to be able to have the money to restore this place to its former glory,” said Scott Wells, the track’s president and general manager.

Global Gaming Solutions, a subsidiary of the Ada-based American Indian tribe, bought the track and its on-site casino on Dec. 31 for $80.25 million from bankrupt Magna Entertainment Corp.

Although they’d checked out the track before making the purchase, Global Gaming officials were amazed “how much deferred maintenance there was and how much capital was not invested back into the property,” said Greg Pittman, the company’s vice president of development projects.

Even with the well-documented struggles of the horse racing industry nationally, Global Gaming saw an opportunity in Remington Park, Pittman said, especially considering the Chickasaws’ success in operating two of the state’s largest casinos, the Riverwind in Goldsby and the WinStar in Thackerville.

“This was a diamond in the rough,” Pittman said. “It just needed some (tender loving care) to bring it back to the glory days of before. ... We look at it as an entertainment venue and we’re very good at entertainment venues. When there are areas we don’t know about, we bring in smart people to run the operations for us.”

Changes are obvious all around the facility. There’s new roofing on the paddock and main building, new paint in the paddock, the main building and on balconies and new exterior lighting. The suites have been reworked, with new lighting, flooring, paint and furniture.

On the main level, the public areas were widened and half of the betting-window structure was removed. A new locally based restaurant, Henry Hudson’s, is being built. Flat-screen televisions have been installed throughout the facility, with more to come.

Outside, the track’s asphalt apron has been redone with pavers, new furniture, two fountains and two planters. A 9-foot waterfall is under construction next to an outdoor patio area. The goal, Pittman said, was “to create a park-like setting” for fans to watch races.

The jockey’s quarters received a complete facelift, and in the casino, about 300 of the 750 games have been upgraded or changed out. Even the track’s rarely used infield has seen some renovation work and should be accessible to fans more often as a result, Wells said.

“We talked to the customers and figured out the areas where we could have the biggest bang for our buck immediately,” Pittman said. “The track level on both sides, we had a lot of customers coming and trying to enjoy the racing under a very bland environment, with outdoor furniture inside. If they were willing to attend under that scenario, it’s easy for us to say, if we refurbish the place, put color on the wall, clean it up, put furniture in there, more people would come.”

Trainer Donnie Von Hemel, who has run horses at Remington Park since it opened in 1988, said having an Oklahoma-based group own the track is a positive.

“We’ve always had an absentee landlord here,” Von Hemel said. “When the owner has to see his patrons on a regular basis ... I think there’s a better chance they are going to be proud of what they’re putting out there for the fans. They have shown they are going to step up to the plate and do a top-notch job.”

All the work is about making the entertainment experience better, Pittman said.

More renovations are planned during the coming months, Global Gaming CEO John Elliott said, and during the next three to five years, company officials hope to build a hotel on the grounds. Pittman said he foresees the track and hotel hosting conventions, concerts and other sport-themed events.