Oklahoma Sports Betting Scene May Hinge on Tribal Contracts

Oklahoma Sports Betting Scene May Hinge on Tribal Contracts
By Trey Killian

One of the biggest pro-gambling states in the United States, Oklahoma will be spending a lot of time reviewing its gaming industry the rest of the year.

That much was made clear by Gov. Kevin Stitt, who addressed his goals in relation to the upcoming expiration of tribal compacts in a Tulsa World op-ed this week.

The compacts have been around for about 15 years, and have helped Oklahoma establish itself as a leader in the U.S. for tribal gaming. They grant the Cherokee, Chickasaw and other Native American tribes exclusive rights to all gambling operations and profits in the state.

Oklahoma is home to a whopping 102 tribal casinos, including the “largest casino in the world,” the WinStar World Casino in Thackerville.

As Stitt reiterates in the article, tribal gaming is the state’s eighth largest industry, bringing in around $4.5 billion in revenue, and is the state’s third-largest employer providing jobs for more than 54,000 citizens.

That would explain why the governor wants to take his time, using the expiration of the compacts to comprehensively review Oklahoma gaming and bring it up to speed with several other states.

Tribal Conversations Could Involve Sports Betting

Stitt stated his commitment to “sitting down with our tribal partners to discuss how to bring these 15-year-old compacts to an agreement that reflects market conditions for the gaming industry seen around the nation today.”

One would assume that these discussions could likely involve sports betting, as that practice was not an option before last May’s U.S. Supreme Court decision to overturn the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act.

The tribes have expressed a willingness and interest in eventually offering sports betting at state casinos since that fateful decision, but state legislatures have yet to decide how to go about it.

When asked about sports betting last October and the prospects of bringing it to Oklahoma, Pat Crofts, CEO of Creek Nation Casinos, told the Tulsa World he expected the process to take a while.

“We are going to be dealing with a lot of new legislators and a new governor. So the one thing we know is it won’t happen quickly.”

But from the looks of things that new governor might be willing to get the ball rolling before Jan. 1, 2020, when the contracts are set to expire.

Stitt Expects Exclusivity Fees to be Addressed

Aside from reviewing issues like sports betting, the topic of “exclusivity fees” figures to be a major point of contention in these discussions.

Stitt mentions that when the compacts were initially agreed upon, these fees were established as a form of compromise when granting the tribes full control of gaming.

At the time, the fees were set at 4% and topped at 6% which is a relatively low figure that was meant to incentivize the new industry.

Stitt points out that today “most state-tribal compacts around the country provide for exclusivity fees to the state of 20% to 25%.”

He goes on to cite a specific instance last fall when Arkansas, Oklahoma’s neighbor, approved four new casinos of which two will be “bid on by tribes.” Arkansas will carry an exclusivity fee of 13% that will max out at 20%.

With these issues in mind, it will be interesting to follow these negotiations as 2020 approaches and see how they could impact sports betting and other forms of gambling expansion in the Sooner State.

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Trey Killian covers the gambling and casino industries in the U.S. A budding reporter, Killian is a graduate of Marquette University and writes about a range of topics, including but not limited to digital casino gaming, online poker and industry news.

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