Oklahoma tribal casinos shared a record $17.9 million with the state in August, reports The Oklahoman.
The numbers indicate the region’s tribal gaming market is in robust health and continuing its bounce back after pandemic-related closures.
Tribal operators are not required to disclose their financial results publicly, and generally do not. But since the state receives a percentage of their revenues, these figures — published by the Oklahoma Office of Management and Enterprise Services — offer indirect insight into the state of the industry.
Some 4% to 6% of the casinos’ slot machine revenue, depending on the size of the operation, and 10% of non-house-banked table games flow into state coffers.
According to the economist Alan Meister, the Oklahoma market is second only to California in terms of revenue, despite hosting more gaming facilities. It has more tribal operations than any other state – 130, operated by 33 tribal nations. These range from modest electronic bingo halls to resort-style mega-casinos.
The state’s previous revenue-share record was just under $17.8 million in May 2021. So far this year, $193 million has flowed into state coffers, 13% more than the corresponding period in 2021.
The numbers also reflect the continued growth of Oklahoma’s post-pandemic economy, despite rising inflation. Both Oklahoma and Texas, whose residents feed the tribal casinos, have seen a steady rise in wages over the past few years, according to The Oklahoman.
The news comes despite ongoing beef between the tribes and Oklahoma Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt. That has stymied the introduction of sports betting in the state.
Shortly after becoming governor in 2019, Stitt attempted to squeeze more money out of the tribes. He wanted to renegotiate the 2004 model compact, an agreement that defined tribal gaming rights and revenue-share payments between state and tribes. And he wanted to dangle sports betting as an incentive to increase the state’s cut.
The tribes resisted, arguing the compact was designed to automatically roll over for another 15 years on January 1, 2020. Stitt claimed it expired on that date and that operators who continued to offer slots and table gaming after the deadline were doing so illegally.
In October 2020, a federal judge sided with the tribes, agreeing the compacts rolled over. Then, in July 2021, the courts nullified compacts Stitt had negotiated with a handful of breakaway tribes that were prepared to dance to his tune.
The judge in that case said the governor had overstepped his authority by offering the breakaway tribes sports betting rights.
This disrupted the balance between the executive and legislative branches of government because sports betting could only be authorized by the legislature, before being approved by voters in a public referendum, said the judge.
The friction between Stitt and the tribes has stalled opportunities for gaming expansion, including sports betting. This is partly why many of the largest operators are branching out into commercial markets outside Oklahoma, or are exploring opportunities in states where they claim ancestral ties, a prerequisite for tribal gaming.
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