Oklahoma: The battle for sports betting

May 3, 2023 8:48 PM
Photo: Shutterstock
  • Buck Wargo, CDC Gaming Reports
May 3, 2023 8:48 PM
  • Buck Wargo, CDC Gaming Reports
  • Oklahoma

Although other tribal nations are positioned to benefit from sports betting, its approval remains a longshot for Oklahoma tribes, according to a panel discussion hosted by the Indian Gaming Association.

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Jason Giles, executive director of the IGA, along with Victor Rocha, chairman of the IGA’s annual tradeshow and convention, discussed sports betting with JR Mathews, former chairman of the Quapaw Tribe and observer of Oklahoma politics.

The situation in the Sooner State has come to a standstill. House Bill 1027, which aimed to authorize sports betting, easily passed the House, but stalled in a Senate committee. The progress was halted as senators called for further discussions between Gov. Kevin Stitt and the state’s tribes. The tribes accused Stitt, who in the past has tried to increase fees that they pay for their exclusivity in gaming, of being missing in action since then.

“With the current state of leadership, I don’t see it happening anytime soon with all the tribes,” Matthews said. “It’s pretty much dead this year. I’m sure it will come back next year. The legislators want to see, this because they know the state will get left out. When you have Texas, Missouri, Kansas, and Arkansas around you (potentially) having sports betting and we don’t, they’ll have a problem. All of our money will be leaving instead of coming in.”

Giles agreed that legal casino gambling in Texas would compete in particular with Oklahoma’s tribal casinos and hurt the state’s revenues. Sports betting is already legal in Kansas.

“With Texas and Missouri looking at sports betting, Oklahoma needs it. It’s a positive thing,” Matthews said. However, he continued, there’s no indication that Stitt, who won reelection in November, won’t keep fighting with the tribes to get more tax revenue, upwards of 25%. Tribes currently pay monthly fees on Class III gaming revenues of 4% on the first $10 million, 5% for the next $10 million, and 6% for more than $20 million.

Giles said that prior to the steep demands from Gov. Stitt, tribes were willing to negotiate new compacts.

“The tribes are carrying the economic burden for the state and the state can’t appreciate it,” Giles said. “They just want more and more. The governor is inflicting damage on tribal -state relations in his second term, but the (Republican) party doesn’t seem to back him up on a lot of these issues with the tribes. One of the biggest bargaining chips he has is telling tribes he will open up commercial sports betting here, sticking it to tribes and infringing upon their exclusivity. That’s not happening.”

Giles said the IGA is engaging the Biden Administration to do more for tribes in dealing with governors like Stitt; other governors out there are threatening tribal sovereignty. In addition, lawsuits are coming that challenge tribal gaming rights and Giles said states are “itching to get to the Supreme Court. We’re being attacked from all over the place and we thought we were done with these 30 years ago.”

Matthews praised the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians and Seminole Tribe of Florida for buying properties in Las Vegas and urged tribes to band together to acquire more commercial ventures, including owning a sports team.

Giles said owning a professional sports team can put tribes in a different light and noted that tribes advertising at sporting events has already helped raise their profiles.

“The tribes were here first,” Giles said. “There’s all of this crazy stuff about what you can or can’t teach in schools, but the tribal story is still sitting there and needs to be displayed. Owning these big entities in the public sphere can only help tribes. That is something we have to start to look at more and more.”

Rocha, who is from California, said Oklahoma is like California: Sports betting remains at a standstill in both, while other states move forward.

“We’re all a little bummed it’s not going to happen,” Rocha said. “California and Oklahoma are breaking our hearts, but we’ve seen some action in Minnesota and Kansas. When it comes to tribal gaming and the future of the industry, there’s a lot to be optimistic about.”