11/03/2004 12:00AM

Oklahoma tracks get slots as measures fail elswhere


Gambling measures that would have allowed for slot machines at racetracks were voted down Tuesday in nearly every U.S. jurisdiction where they were on the ballot, with the exception of Oklahoma.

The biggest defeats were handed down in Florida and California. As of late Wednesday, the Florida measure, which would have allowed voters to approve slot machines in specific counties, was narrowly defeated, although a recount of the vote was expected. In California, a ballot measure allowing for slots at racetracks was soundly rejected, as polls had indicated prior to the vote.

The Oklahoma measure will allow Remington Park to install 650 machines that are based on bingo and other so-called "games of skill." Oklahoma's two other racetracks, Blue Ribbon Downs and Will Rogers Downs, will each be able to install 250 of the machines. The machines are already in use at approximately 80 American Indian casinos in the state.

In Michigan, voters approved a constitutional amendment that will make it more difficult for gambling measures to pass. The amendment will require state and county voters to separately approve any expansion of gambling, a result that is widely viewed as a defeat for racetracks intent on getting slot machines.

Magna Entertainment, the racetrack owner and operator, had a huge stake in the Tuesday results. Magna owns Santa Anita Park and Golden Gate Fields in California; Gulfstream Park in Florida; and Remington Park in Oklahoma. Magna also operates Great Lakes Downs in Michigan, and has presented plans for a new $100 million racetrack near Detroit.

Churchill Downs was also heavily invested in the referenda. Churchill owns Hollywood Park in California and Calder Race Course in Florida.

Both Magna and Churchill spent millions of dollars in California and Florida to generate support for the measures. Jim McAlpine, Magna's chief executive officer, said during a conference call on Wednesday with analysts that Magna had spent $17 million this year on lobbying efforts in the United States, including its support of initiatives in Oklahoma and Michigan.

Stock in Churchill Downs Inc. dropped 34 cents on Wednesday, down 0.9 percent to $36.35. Stock in Magna Entertainment dropped 23 cents, down 4.6 percent to $4.82, after falling 10.3 percent on Tuesday when the company announced a $50.3 million third-quarter loss.

McAlpine said Magna still believed that Michigan would be a good site for a new parimutuel racetrack, but conceded that Magna would re-evaluate its decision to build the track in the wake of the passage of the constitutional amendment. "We're some ways away from making a decision to pursue that project," McAlpine said.

Magna tore down its Florida racetrack, Gulfstream Park, earlier this year. The company is in the midst of rebuilding the track, which it said will cost $100 million. McAlpine said that the company's plans have not changed as a result of the Florida vote, and cautioned that the recount could swing the vote in Magna's favor. As of late Wednesday, votes against the amendment were leading by a margin of 50.05 percent to 49.95 percent, a difference of 7,000 votes from a total of 7.85 million cast.

McAlpine also said that Magna would spend $25 million to $30 million in order to install the gambling machines in Oklahoma at Remington Park. The machines would be operational by late 2005 or early 2006, he said. Earlier, officials said that the revenues from the machines would boost purses to $200,000 a day at the track.

The California amendment that was defeated would have allowed for up to 30,000 slot machines at 16 racetracks and card clubs in the state. Supporters of the amendment abandoned an advertising campaign behind the effort three weeks before the vote in the face of widespread voter opposition.

Supporters claimed that voters were confused by the ballot initiative, and have said that they will continue to fight for slots at racetracks next year. This year's ballot initiative would have allowed for slots as long as any California tribal casino refused to give the state 25 percent of its gambling revenues.

In other ballot initiatives affecting racing, voters in Virginia approved measures in four of five counties to allow for offtrack betting parlors. Colonial Downs, the only racetrack in Virginia, already operates six OTB parlors in the state. Virginia law allows the track to operate as many as 10 OTB's.

In Nebraska, voters rejected a proposal to legalize casinos in the state and allow for up to 4,900 slot machines at state racetracks. The proposal was backed by the Venetian Casino in Las Vegas, the state's horse racing industry, and keno operators.