Oklahoma Tribal Gaming Conference Attracts Record Crowd

More than 3,000 people attended the recent Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association conference in Tulsa. One of the hot topics was mobile sports betting, although it may be some time before it’s added to tribal compacts.

Oklahoma Tribal Gaming Conference Attracts Record Crowd

An estimated 3,000-plus people attended the recent Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association (OIGA) conference in Tulsa on August 9 through August 11−double the number from last year. Attendees included tribal leaders, casino gaming operators and managers, regulators, vendors and workers from every aspect of Indian gaming. The conference presented more than 130 exhibitors and panels and workshops on gaming best practices, industry analysis, updates on sports betting and more.

OIGA spokesperson Christine Eddington said, “I think people are ready to get back out and do business, similar to how it was before Covid. This year, people were ready to get back together. This show is unique because it’s very much like a family reunion. People were just really, really happy to see one another. It’s been great.”

The most recent OIGA report, issued in 2016, indicated Indian gaming generated an economic impact of $7.2 billion annually from operations and construction, with 60 percent occurring in rural areas. According to more recent data from the American Gaming Association (AGA), the 138 casinos in Oklahoma generate an economic impact of $9.8 billion, supporting 75,885 jobs.

AGA President and Chief Executive Officer Bill Miller said, “Tribal gaming demonstrated its responsible leadership throughout the pandemic and these record results reflect that commitment. The full recovery and ongoing success of tribal casinos goes well beyond the casino floor to support vibrant communities across the country.”

Mobile sports gambling was seen as the way to keep the momentum going, although it could be a while before it comes to Oklahoma. The ongoing tension between Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt has stalled talks on the possibility of mobile sports betting. Matthew Morgan, OIGA chairman, said, “We have to show up at the ballot box. That’s the most important thing.”

Speaking at the conference, Stitt’s opponent in the general election, Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister, said it was critical for the state to have a leader who understands the importance of tribal sovereignty, in agreement with many who attended the conference.

Another speaker, John Tahsuda, principal at Navigators Global LLC, an issues management, government relations and strategic communications firm based in Washington, D.C., said, “In Oklahoma, if you know how to get legalized sports betting done, you’re probably going to be able to guess the numbers of the next Powerball.”

If or when sports wagering is legalized in Oklahoma, mobile betting is expected to dominate. Same Basile, vice president of GeoComply, said, “You’ve got to do mobile. You can have a 5,000-square-foot sportsbook or you can have a 150,000-square-foot sportsbook by going mobile.”

In Oklahoma, existing gaming compacts give tribes exclusivity for gaming, with the state receiving a percentage of revenue. The current compacts do not include sports betting, but they could be amended. That was proposed in the most recent Oklahoma legislative session by state Rep. Ken Luttrell. His bill would have added sports gambling to the list of activities allowed under existing gaming compacts, with the state receiving 10 percent of revenue minus prizes paid out and federal taxes. The bill failed to advance through the legislature.

Recently state Senate Pro Tem Greg Treat said, “I am not hearing any chatter on sports betting. It is one of those things I believe is leveraged in negotiations to try to get a better deal for Oklahoma overall on compacts. I have never had serious conversations with anyone wanting that to be done.”