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The Oklahoman

Game bird owners face uncertain future
2002-11-08

KINGSTON -- Judy Hamilton sat Thursday morning in her $350,000 arena, sipping hot coffee, pondering her future and weeping.

Hamilton owns the Texoma Game Club, which hosts 26 cockfighting derbies each year between November and June. Her derbies have attracted spectators from around the world and have been considered some of the classiest events in the business.

Until now.

State Question 687, which bans cockfighting, is expected to render Hamilton's business illegal today when Tuesday's election results are certified. SQ 687 passed with 56 percent of the vote.

"I'm still in shock," said Hamilton, who has promoted and bred roosters for the past 15 years as her only income. "I have no idea what I'm going to do. All I know is that when they certify those election results I will be considered a criminal.

"The bill stated that you can't 'own, possess, or keep' game birds. Well, I'm not getting rid of my birds, weapons or facility. So I guess that makes me a criminal."

And, as far as Hamilton can surmise, an unemployed one at that.

She is not alone. The Oklahoma Gamefowl Breeders Association estimates there are more than 7,000 breeders and about 2 million game roosters statewide. Association officials claim cockfighting contributes more than $100 million to the state economy each year.

"All voters have done is run that money out of state," said Butch Stover, a breeder in Granite. "This is going to have a devastating impact on the economy, and not just in Oklahoma. We ship birds all the time to places like Guam, the Philippines, Hawaii.

"Now all those transportation companies will lose money, too. Everyone loses."

Denny Eakle expects the economic impact will be far-reaching in Marshall County, where he owns and operates a 12-room motel a short distance from Hamilton's game club.

"A lot of times when those tournaments were going on I would be completely sold out from spectators who had come in to watch the cockfights," Eakle said. "I've had people who have stayed at my hotel from Brazil, Wyoming, Argentina ... They all come to see the cockfights."

Eakle said the Hawaiian Derby meant more than any other cockfighting derby to the Marshall County economy. The derby ran for six days in June.

"We would probably get 20,000 people in this area at one time just to see the cockfights," Eakle said. "Now I'm not into cockfighting, but that's a lot of people to run off. Every year I would get a group of lawyers and judges who would come down from Georgia to see the cockfights. They would always say, 'See ya' next year.'

"But this year they said, 'If we're not back, I guess we'll see you in Louisiana.'"

Louisiana and New Mexico are the last remaining states where cockfighting is legal.

"No one will ever stop cockfighting," Eakle said. "They just stopped it here."

Cockfighting supporters say the law also will eliminate revenue generated from the sale of specially-mixed feed, the construction of wooden pens and the sale of gamecock weapons. For example, a set of metal spurs -- or gaffs -- used by a gamecock in combat costs roughly $90.

"There are people all over the state who make them," Hamilton said. "I probably have $5,000 worth of gaffs in my own collection."

Feed stores also are expected to feel the impact.

"In 1996, I spent an average of between $700 and $800 a month on feed," Stover said. "Breeders up north who raise anywhere from 1,500 to 2,500 birds can spend as much as $1,000 to $1,500 a month on feed. So you can see how clearly that will have a devastating effect on the economy.

"But I still think we should be allowed to sell our birds to make a living."