Oklahoma is the biggest tribal gaming market in the US outside of California. But it will be without sports betting, for now.
A bill that would have legalized sportsbooks at tribal casinos died in the Senate for “moral reasons” and a general lack of interest, according to its sponsor in the House, State Rep. Ken Luttrell (R-Ponca City).
Luttrell told The Norman Transcript that the bill’s demise has nothing to do with Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt’s ongoing beef with a majority of Oklahoma’s numerous tribal operators.
Stitt Strategy Backfired
Stitt wants to squeeze more revenue-share payments out of tribal casinos. In 2019, he claimed that the 2004 model compact signed by the 35 tribes expired on January 1, 2020 and would have to be renegotiated.
The tribes argued the language in the compacts indicates they were designed to automatically roll over for another 15 years on that date.
The tribes pay four to six percent of their revenues from slots to the state and ten percent on table games, which works out at around $150 million a year. They argue that’s a good deal.
Stitt managed to negotiate new compacts with four tribes by dangling sports betting as a carrot on a stick. The strategy was designed to break the consensus in the tribal gaming industry by showing that some stakeholders were happy to renegotiate.
But the plan backfired when the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled Stitt had overstepped his authority by offering sports betting because it had not been approved by the legislature. The court determined the governor was disrupting the balance between the executive and legislative branches of government.
But there’s no sour grapes from Stitt, who supported this year’s bill, according to Luttrell.
Matthew Morgan, chairman of Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association, told The Norman Transcript that gaming expansion was never likely to pass during an election year, such as this.
Gambling bills have a much better chance of succeeding in non-election years when lawmakers are looking for new ways to generate revenue, he said.
I don’t think anybody had the expectation that something was going to zoom through the Legislature and get finished, but it was a good starting point to bring people to the table and start talking about what that may look like and to see where people stood,” said Morgan.
Luttrell agrees that his bill will probably have a better shot next year and he plans to resurrect it next year. And if it still doesn’t pass, Oklahoma will be “behind again,” he added ruefully.
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