Oklahoma Tribal Casinos broke revenue records in August

Posted on: September 12, 2022, 04:21h.

Last update on: September 12, 2022, 07:22h.

Oklahoma’s tribal casinos shared a record $17.9 million with the state in August, reports The Oklahman.

WinStar World
WinStar World in Thackerville, Okla., owned by the Chickasaw Nation, is one of the largest casinos in the world. Tribal gambling appears to be thriving in the state, despite rising inflation. (Picture: YouTube)

The figures indicate that the region’s tribal games market is healthy and continues to rebound from the pandemic-related shutdowns.

Tribal operators are not required to publicly disclose their financial results and generally do not. But since the state receives a percentage of its revenue, these numbers — released by the Oklahoma Office of Management and Enterprise Services — offer an indirect insight into the state of the industry.

About 4% to 6% of casino slot revenue, depending on the size of the operation, and 10% of non-self-banked table games flow into state coffers.

Inflation resistant?

According to economist Alan Meister, Oklahoma’s 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 complex style mega-casinos.

The state’s previous revenue-sharing record was just under $17.8 million in May 2021. So far this year, $193 million has flowed into state coffers, i.e. 13% more than the corresponding period in 2021.

The numbers also reflect the continued growth of Oklahoma’s post-pandemic economy, despite rising inflation. Oklahoma and Texas, whose residents power tribal casinos, have seen steady wage increases in recent years, according to The Oklahman.

Despite the ongoing beef between the tribes and Republican Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt, the news is coming. This has hindered the introduction of sports betting in the state.

Stitt Squeeze

Shortly after becoming governor in 2019, Stitt tried to extract more money from the tribes. He wanted to renegotiate the 2004 Model Compact, an agreement that defined tribal gaming rights and revenue-sharing payments between states and tribes. And he wanted to dangle sports betting as an incentive to raise the state cup.

The tribes resisted, arguing that the pact was designed to automatically renew for another 15 years on January 1, 2020. Stitt claimed that it expired on that date and operators who continued to offer slots and games tables after the deadline were doing so illegally.

In October 2020, a federal judge sided with the tribes, agreeing to the covenants being rolled over. Then, in July 2021, the courts overturned pacts Stitt had negotiated with a handful of dissenting tribesmen willing to dance to his tune.

The judge in that case said the governor exceeded his authority by offering breakaway tribes sports betting rights.

This upset the balance between the executive and legislative branches of government because the legislature could only authorize sports betting before it was approved by voters in a public referendum, the judge said.

Friction between Stitt and the tribes blocked opportunities for expansion of gaming, including sports betting. That’s part of why many of the biggest operators are branching out into business markets outside of Oklahoma or exploring opportunities in states where they claim ancestral ties, a prerequisite for tribal play.