Oklahoma Tribes Celebrate Gaming Anniversary

A decade ago, nearly 60 percent of Oklahoma voters approved State Question 712, which allowed Class III gaming compacts in the state. Since then Oklahoma's 34 gaming tribes have paid more than $895 in exclusivity fees, including the Choctaws, owners of an impressive casino in Durant (l.). The Cherokee Nation alone generates an annual economic impact of $1.3 billion for the state.

In 2004, more than 849,000 Oklahomans, nearly 60 percent of those who voted, passed State Question 712, a referendum allowing Class III tribal-state gaming compacts and Las Vegas-style gaming in the state. In the following decade, Oklahoma’s 34 Native American tribes with a gaming compact have paid the state more than 5 million in “exclusivity fees,” with nearly 90 percent going toward education, including million last year.

The Cherokee Nation alone generates an annual economic impact of $1.3 billion for the state and paid $3.6 million in exclusivity fees in fiscal year 2014. The tribe supports 14,203 jobs in their 14-county area, directly employing about 5,000 people, 75 percent of who are Cherokee.

The Muscogee Creeks and Osage Nation are the next biggest gaming tribes in Oklahoma, paying nearly $9.1 million and $5.8 million in exclusivity fees to the state in fiscal year 2014. In addition, the Cherokee, Muscogee Creek and Osage Nations pay a combined $2 million annually to Fair Meadows Racetrack; in return the track will not install Class III electronic gaming.

The anniversary was marked at an event at the Cherokee Nation’s Hard Rock Casino in Tulsa, where Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John Baker said,  “I can only speak for the Cherokees, but it’s no different around the state. The tribes have become the economic engines of the state that are moving things forward. Had this not passed, the state of Oklahoma I’m not sure would have come out of the recession. Because we’re the tribes and our corporate headquarters are in Oklahoma, it’s not like another gaming company coming in where the profits go to stockholders all over the world or the owners who live someplace else. Those dollars stay right here and multiply and multiply.”

Baker added, “In 2004, Cherokee Nation’s casinos generated just under $2 million for services to the Cherokee people. Last year, that number skyrocketed to more than $47 million.”

Brad Henry, who was governor in 2004, noted, “State Question 712 itself has created tens of thousands of new jobs, has increased economic activity in our state by billions of dollars, has created destinations all across our state where people come from outside our state to stay, play and spend money.”