Tribal Economies

As Oklahoma’s Gaming Industry Changes, Tribes ‘Should Be The Ones To Lead It,’ Leaders Say | Government and politics

Years ago, while serving in the military, Jon Peters heard a drill sergeant say that there were three types of Marines: “The one who makes things happen, the one who waits for things to happen and the one that says ‘what happened?'”

“We have to be the right kind of Marine,” said Peters, now COO of the Kiowa Casino and Hotel.

In other words, the tribes of Oklahoma need to drive change in the state’s gaming industry and not just wait to react to change, Peters said this week at the Oklahoma conference and trade show. the Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association.

One particularly big change will involve the legalization of sports betting in the state, according to several attendees at the conference, which ended Thursday at the Cox Business Convention Center in downtown Tulsa.

“It’s not ‘if’ but ‘when’ this change happens,” said Kelly Carpino, CEO of the Wyandotte Tribe of Oklahoma.

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More than half of states have legalized sports betting since a 2018 U.S. Supreme Court ruling overturned a federal ban, speakers said. And Americans have since wagered more than $143 billion on sporting events.

Bringing it to Oklahoma would generate revenue not only for the tribes but also for the state government, said Janie Dillard, senior executive director of commerce for the Choctaw Nation.

“We should be the ones driving it,” Dillard agreed during a “state of the game” roundtable in Oklahoma. “Sports betting is the next big thing.”

Legalization in Oklahoma would likely include technological changes for tribal gaming, with betting conducted online rather than in physical casinos, the speakers said. And that would likely require amendments to the state’s gaming pact, which gives tribes the exclusive right to offer games while the state receives a percentage of revenue, the speakers said. Current compacts do not include sports betting.

Renegotiating the pacts, however, will come with risks, said Bill Lance, the Chickasaw Nation secretary of state.

“It can’t be a drastic, total change,” Lance said, noting that the tribes had successfully fought off Gov. Kevin Stitt’s efforts to force them to negotiate an all-new pact.

“Everything we do, going forward, we have to protect the integrity of the current state pact,” Lance said.

Native American tribes contributed $15.6 billion to Oklahoma’s economy in 2019, the most recent year for which data is available, making it one of the “top 10 industries of the state,” said Victor Flores, president of the Oklahoma Tribal Finance Consortium.

Tribes have created more than 113,000 jobs, the majority of which are held by non-tribal citizens, worth more than $5.4 billion in wages and benefits, Flores said.

“Tribes are an economic engine as well as a constant and reliable partner,” Flores said. “Unlike businesses that move based on economic conditions, our tribes are here to stay.”

Although optimistic about the continued growth of gaming in Oklahoma, experts at the conference urged the tribes to diversity with investments in other industries.

As one speaker noted, Oklahoma tribes have had to expand beyond bingo into casino games to generate enough revenue for health care, housing, and other needs. Likewise, tribes will need to expand beyond the game to meet future needs, Dillard said.

“The game laid our foundation. It built us. It made us who we are today,” she said. other opportunities. Diversification is very important to all of us.