OKLAHOMA CITY - Thanks to a last minute veto handed down by Governor Keating, the Oklahoma Horse Racing Commission will not be able to pay for track audits to ensure racing revenue is distributed properly, according to a state legislator.
"Basically, Governor Keating has removed the watchdog in charge of monitoring how wagers, purse money and tax revenues are distributed by the race tracks," said Senator Lewis Long. "The Governor has opened a Pandora's box with the potential for all kinds of mistakes and abuses that could end up costing racing fans, horse owners and taxpayers millions of dollars."
Governor Keating vetoed a $303,000 appropriation for the Oklahoma Horse Racing Commission in the final week of the legislative session. Even though it didn't receive that funding, the commission was still required to fund a state employee pay raise. In order to fulfill that obligation, the commission was forced to cut other parts of its budget, including a $48,000 professional services contract with the State Auditor's office, the entity it has hired to conduct audits of all the pari-mutual tracks in Oklahoma.
"Thanks to Governor Keating, we're just going to have to trust the tracks to keep the books, check for errors and correct mistakes. If a track makes an error, and I understand mistakes are relatively common when you're dealing with millions of dollars and complicated wagering formulas, it's going to cost people money.
"That's not fair to racing fans, horse owners, taxpayers or anyone else who benefits from racing revenues."
Under the old contract with the racing commission, the auditor's office provided a daily presence at the tracks, checking the revenue distribution on individual live races and meets as they came in. Distribution mistakes were not uncommon, according to auditors, and could be somewhat large, such as one case where $60,000 was distributed incorrectly. The Oklahoma auditing system had worked so well, in fact, that other states had modeled their pari-mutual tracking systems after Oklahoma's.
"We had a great system in place, until Governor Keating got involved. We need the auditor there to act as a safety net, to catch the mistakes that slip by the tracks. That's why we have auditors in the first place.
"Governor Keating has created a situation where we can't guarantee that racing revenues are being distributed accurately. That's going to make it difficult to convince people, whether they're Oklahomans or out-of-state tourists, that everything is being run on the up and up in our pari-mutual system," said Senator Long.
Since Governor Keating hasn't acted responsibly on pari-mutual racing, the Tulsa-area legislator is urging track owners to pick up the slack left by the veto.
"I would like to see track owners pitch in and pay the state auditor's fee themselves. It would show everyone that they're interested in running a top notch operation, and it would bail us out of another crisis created by Governor Keating," said Senator Long.
If the tracks don't intervene, Senator Long said legislators will try to fix the problem next session.