Published: January 11, 2022

Oklahoma lawmaker files bill to legalize sports betting amid tensions between Gov. and tribes

A new bill is aiming for the legalization of sports betting in Oklahoma. State Rep. Ken Luttrell (R-Ponca City) filed House Bill 3008 last Monday, which seeks to bring back to the table the possibility of legal sports gambling at the state’s tribal casinos. Legislators have until Jan. 20 to formally introduce bills and for the upcoming session that begins Feb. 7.

Should the legislation be passed, it would add pooled sports wagering to the list of activities contemplated under existing gaming compacts between state and tribes. House Bill 3008 calls for the state to receive a 10% cut of net winnings, which is the total in bets received minus prizes paid out and federal taxes.

“I have had conversations with our gaming tribes during the interim to gauge their interest on this topic,” Luttrell said in a news release, as reported by Tulsa World. “I feel the time is right for Oklahoma to partner with the tribes and ensure a level, competitive gaming playing field with the surrounding states.”

According to the cited new source, it is not yet “clear” the support the legislation currently counts with, or whether it would have a chance of being signed by Gov. Kevin Stitt. He had previously shown little interest in negotiating with the state’s tribes on gaming.

Since his election, the Gov.’s administration brought discussions to add sports betting to compacts to a halt. Moreover, Stitt unsuccessfully attempted to have the compacts with the tribes declared no longer valid.

Gaming negotiations between Gov. Stitt and tribal nations in Oklahoma have been “virtually non-existent” for years now. Last year, the Supreme Court’s McGirt ruling, which further solidified the tribe’s sovereignty claims, greatly displeased Stitt and has been credited with further pushing aside possible discussions between both parties.

Defending the need for legalized sports wagering, Luttrell, a Cherokee citizen with a background in consulting and lobbying on tribal matters, said Oklahoma is currently missing a chance to benefit from revenue which is currently either going to other neighboring states, or to illegal wagering enterprises. According to him, the matter is bringing an existing market out of the shadows.

Illegal sports betting occurs throughout Oklahoma, and figures I obtained from the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation show 11 offenses recently with tens of thousands of dollars seized,” Luttrell said according to KOCO News 5.

“This reflects only a fraction of what actually occurs in our state,” Luttrell further added. “The Oxford Economics Group estimates that legal sports betting would generate $240 million in revenue for Oklahoma and create over 3,000 direct and indirect jobs.”

In 2021, Oklahoma casinos posted one of their most profitable years, as revenue rebounded following mandated closures in 2020. Casinos exclusivity fees paid to the state were up even when compared against pre-pandemic levels, and the Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association announced revenues increasing at levels previously not seen.

Casino exclusivity fees were up nearly 6.5% from January through August 2021, compared with the same pre-pandemic period in 2019, according to data by the Office of State Management and Enterprise Services. Fees were up nearly 35.4% compared with 2020, when tribal operators were forced to close operations.

Oklahoma’s gaming industry is one of the country’s most prolific, second only to Las Vegas and California: nearly all of the state’s 39 tribes conduct gaming operations, with 132 facilities currently active. The largest casino in the state is Chickasaw Nation’s WinStar World Casino, which has 8,600 electronic games.

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