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Horsemen Join Effort

Discerning the prevailing winds, and buoyed by a range of highly motivated groups, Governor Brad Henry continued to press the issue of greatly expanded legalized gaming/gambling in Oklahoma. The state’s struggling racing industry merged its own political and financial “horse power” to the effort in return for the introduction into race tracks, too, of high-octane gambling machines.

Still, it was a political slugfest in the legislature, where mostly-Republican opposition, along with a handful of conservative Democrats, maintained the ramparts in 2004 on behalf of the legions of Oklahomans fearful of the evils they foresaw in the historic gambling measures.

Gaming forces pulled out all the stops to persuade the solons.

“I’m here today as a horseman, a father who has children in public schools, and an Oklahoman,” country music legend Toby Keith of Norman lobbied senators at the state capitol. The horse industry was veering away from Oklahoma to surrounding states, he said, because they had gaming, which bettered race purses, and also attracted the best trainers.

“This is a significant step in saving the more than 50,000 jobs in Oklahoma’s horse industry, which is on the verge of collapse,” said veteran Democratic Senate leader and President Pro Tempore Cal Hobson of Lexington. Senate Democrats said slot machines, roulette, and dice games were prohibited in their bill.