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Sports Betting Legislation in Oklahoma Criticized by Tribal Leaders

Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt profile image
Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt speaks during the 2023 Concordia Annual Summit at Sheraton New York on September 18, 2023 in New York City. Riccardo Savi/Getty Images for Concordia Summit/AFP

A renewed push to bring mobile sports betting to Oklahoma is in motion but gaming exclusivity to the state’s tribal nations has ruffled some feathers.

Governor’s Vision

At the beginning of November, Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt announced his vision of sports betting coming to brick-and-mortar sportsbooks as well as mobile betting platforms. The retail sportsbooks would be the exclusive domain of the state’s federally recognized tribes housed inside their casinos while the mobile betting would be open to any mobile sportsbook that qualified.

“I promised Oklahomans if we pursued sports betting, we would do it right— and this plan does just that,” said Governor Stitt. “Thirty-five states have already legalized sports betting, and it’ll be a great revenue stream for the state. Tribes will be able to add it onto their existing infrastructure, and Oklahomans can access it right from their phone.”

The governor’s proposal would prohibit prop bets on college athletes and any other bet that would be dependent on their individual performance. The retail tax on adjusted gross revenues (AGR) at in-person sportsbooks would be 15% while a 20% tax on mobile betting AGR would be levied on digital sportsbooks.

An initial licensing fee of $500,000 would be required for operators followed by a $100,000 annual fee thereafter.

Manifesting the Vision

State Senator Casey Murdock recently filed Senate Bill 1434 which virtually mirrors Governor Stitt’s proposal. The same tax rates and licensing fees would apply in SB 1434 as the governor’s plan and the Oklahoma Lottery Commission would have governance over retail and online sportsbook licenses.

Yet, the blowback to the plan was immediate when the governor announced it and nothing has changed since Senator Murdock brought his bill forward. The tribal nations want to maintain gaming exclusivity but if commercial operators like DraftKings, FanDuel, et al, are allowed to operate then the tribes are fearful that it would imperil their operations and minimize their stake in the lucrative mobile gaming market.

No Rush

Matthew Morgan, chairman of the Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association board, pointed to the success of tribal gaming without interference from outsiders, saying, “You wouldn’t see the success of rural Oklahoma without tribes.”

Although Morgan doesn’t discount the possibility of Oklahoma’s tribes becoming involved in mobile sports betting, he is taking a cautious approach.

“Tribes are in no hurry to get this done,” Morgan reiterated. “We are not going to go forward in a manner that doesn’t make sense for us. We will remain hopeful and will continue to sit at the table with people who know how to move the process forward.”

But State Senator Murdock insists his bill is inclusive, stating, “I’m most definitely not saying the tribes can’t do it. I’m just saying anybody can do it. If Joe Blow wants to start a business and wants to start a sportsbook, I want him to be able to. I didn’t want to put any exclusiveness in this.”

Tribal Gaming Exclusivity

Representative Ken Luttrell, co-chair of the Legislature’s Native American caucus, and one who has been at the forefront of advocating for tribal gaming exclusivity, introduced a bill last year with Senator Bill Coleman that would grant retail and mobile sports betting exclusively to tribal nations but those efforts stalled.

Luttrell was asked about Senator Murdock’s bill and said: “I’ll be surprised if it even gets a committee hearing.”

But Murdock was conciliatory when asked about the prospect of a bill amenable to all parties, stating, “I think we need to work together on this for the entire state of Oklahoma. I’m happy to work with the tribes on this, but I just want opportunities for everyone in Oklahoma.”

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