Bob Forrest Guest Sports Writer
Ada Evening News
Oklahoma City —
When Global Gaming RP, a subsidiary of the Chickasaw Nation, took over Remington Park on Jan. 1, 2010, CEO John Elliott and his management team were confident they could re-shape Oklahoma’s largest track into a racing and gaming showplace. But even Elliott admitted last week that he was surprised at how far Remington has come in just one year.
“It was better than we expected — we were exceedingly pleased with the first year,” Elliott said. “I think what surprised me the most was how much stronger the bottom line was than we had predicted.
“That probably has a lot of variables involved in it,” he added. “We had a terrific thoroughbred meet with dramatic increases in handle (total handle for the Quarter Horse and thoroughbred meets combined was up more than 23 percent in an era when most U. S. tracks are experiencing declines) and (simulcast) export signals. A lot of that had to do with management, but I think a lot of it had to do with increased enthusiasm in the facility and in the amenities we added.”
By December, anybody who hadn’t seen Remington in 12 months wouldn’t have recognized the 22-year-old track. Elliott and his crew began making improvements — both cosmetic and administrative — from the very minute they “took the keys” to the building at midnight on Jan. 1, 2010; by year’s end, a facility that was state-of-the-art when it opened in 1988 but had become cold and a little drab in recent years had found some of its old-time energy and had gained some warmth that, while we old-timers didn’t realize it, was probably never there in the first place.
And fans responded. Remington posted a record attendance of more than 1.75 million in its first year under the Global Gaming umbrella, and Elliott — who is anything but a stand-pat kind of guy — said he expects further improvements to lead to further increases in 2011.
“Some of the things we’re planning for this year won’t be visible to customers, but a lot of it will be,” Elliott explained. “You’ll see a lot of new amenities, and I think fans will find a lot of them interesting to say the least.
“We’re going to contnue with upgrades to the gaming floor (where Global Gaming began replacing old machines and adding 50 new ones when the clock struck midnight last Jan. 1) — we’re installing new gaming and surveillance systems,” he added. “The new gaming system will add to functionality that players will appreciate. There will be new games and upgrades to existing games.”
While racing revenues were up significantly at Remington last year, Elliott said his company’s bottom line got an even bigger jolt from a 30 percent increase in gaming revenues, which have far outdistanced racing profits since the casino was added eight years ago.
“On a volume basis, (gaming) was probably up 30 percent based on how much people are actually wagering,” Elliott noted. “It’s a function of a better facility, of better games and of changes management made.”
While gaming saved Remington Park at a time when the track was in danger of going under early in the last decade, racing generates the most attention nationally. Purses swelled significantly by casino revenues attracted the best horses in history for the 2010 Quarter Horse and thoroughbred meetings, and full fields made Remington’s simulcast signal attractive to bettors and racetracks nationwide.
By the time the 2011 Quarter Horse meeting opens in March, Remington (which didn’t have a tote board in operation during the last thoroughbred meet) is expected to have a new infield tote board featuring a three-story television screen that will provide patrons on the infield and in the grandstand with an up-close look at the action in the paddock before and on the track during every race.
“All I can say is (the tote board) will be absolutely state-of-the-art,” Elliott said. “It may very well be the No. 1 screen of all tracks in the country. I think it has all sorts of possibilities — it will change the race fan’s experience considerably. Gone will be the days when you have to look at some second-rate TV in the grandstand.
“It will be ready in time for the Quarter Horse meet, unless the weather gets the best of us,” he added. “It’s something that has to be installed between meets, obviously, because you have to get across the track (to install it).”
Although the 2010 Quarter Horse meeting posted gains of almost 25 percent in handle over 2009, Elliott said the spring meet didn’t receive the full benefit of the improvements that continued throughout the year and helped make the thoroughbred session such a success.
“Obviously last year’s Quarter Horse meet was a very good one, but we had just taken the reins of the facility in January, so we’re looking forward to this year’s meet and I think the horsemen are, too,” he explained. “The momentum that’s being built here will roll into the (2011) Quarter Horse meet, because a lot of changes we made last year were made after the Quarter Horse meet ended.”
Global Gaming also made a bid last year to purchase Lone Star Park in Grand Prairie, Texas, but after a promising start, the process ground to a halt in late summer. Elliott said at this point, his company’s venture into Texas racing is in limbo.
“(The process) is laboriously slow,” he said. “We have the support of the horsemen, but it’s a difficult regulatory process in Texas.
Among all the positives to come out of Global Gaming’s first year in the racing business., though, was the prospect that 2010 only scratched the surface of Remington’s potential as both a racetrack and an entertainment destination.
“I think the outlook for Remington is pretty positive,” Elliott noted. “The more Texas (racing) declines, I can only assume Remington is the beneficiary.
“I think we’ve done a better job of marketing, and I think Remington is finally getting the recognition it deserves on the U. S. racing scene.”