OK, state tribes at odds over gaming revenue
Oklahoma’s first-term governor hasn’t made many friends in the tribal community
Oklahoma has 35 tribes operating 130 casinos that produce gross gaming revenue of about $4.5 billion each year, which is only bested by Nevada and California. Of this, 4-10%, depending on the gaming activity, makes its way to the state’s coffers, but Oklahoma’s new governor, Kevin Shift, wants a bigger piece of the action. He published an op-ed piece in the Tulsa World news outlets, asserting that the tribes need to be prepared to give up more of their revenue when the current compacts are renegotiated next January. As was to be expected, the move didn’t go over too well with the tribes.
In his op-ed piece, Shift stated, “The easiest thing to do is simply renew the existing compacts ‘as is,’ rather than do the hard work of closely reviewing and negotiating new compacts that reflect the state of affairs today. I believe, however, that voters elected me to look at everything in state government with a fresh eye and, where necessary, make the difficult decisions that are in the best interest of all four million Oklahomans.”
He added, “In this case, that means 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.”
The news caught the tribes by surprise, but they’re not going to just take the governor’s position lying down. The chairman of the Quapaw Nation, John Berrey, states, “What I don’t understand, in any of his op-ed, there’s no recognition of the true value of the tribes. Native American tribes are one of the largest employers in the state. We provide benefits for our employees. We’re probably the most philanthropic group in the state.”
Florida has already seen what happens when government tries to push native tribes too far. The Seminole Tribe in the Sunshine State hasn’t been happy with how lawmakers have been trying to rearrange the gaming compacts and is now withholding payments it has made each year. As it stands, Florida is out $400 million in annual revenue and, with its higher status in the rankings, Oklahoma could see an even larger blow if it isn’t careful.