Oklahoma Won’t Get Sports Betting Just Because The Governor Wants It

Written By Darren Cooper on November 20, 2023
Photo of Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt, who wants to legalize sports betting in OK — which would give Texans a nearby legal option for sports betting

When it comes to gambling at a casino, Texas residents remain cuffed by lawmakers who refuse to expand gaming in The Lone Star State. So, millions of Texans travel every year to Oklahoma to play in that state’s casinos.

Texas’ neighbor to the north does not offer legal sports betting. That might be changing, however.

Earlier this month, Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt unexpectedly unveiled his plan to legalize sports betting in The Sooner State. He laid out a basic structure, including tax percentages, on both in-person and online sports wagering.

Opposition to his plan was immediate. Native American tribes and lawmakers in Oklahoma decried it, both accusing the governor of not giving them any say in the proposal.

While his plan gives Texans longing to legally bet on sports a ray of hope, it could be an uphill climb to get it enacted.

Online sportsbooks would pay 20% tax under Stitt’s proposal

In the last session of the state Legislature, Texas sports betting reached a landmark when the House passed a resolution and a bill to legalize it. It was the first time it had passed a chamber of the statehouse. But the Senate killed both measures.

According to Stitt’s proposal, Oklahoma tribes would maintain exclusive rights to in-person sports betting. Revenue would be taxed at 15%. Online sports betting, however, would be open to all sportsbook operators, like Caesars, DraftKings and FanDuel. They would be required to pay $500,000 for a license and $100,000 in yearly fees. Their revenue would be taxed at 20%.

Stitt’s plan is similar to sports betting regulations in other states. More than 30 states have legalized mobile sports betting since it became an option in 2018. And so far, the industry has provided substantial revenue to state coffers, funding everything from education to infrastructure to social programs.

But not every state is like Oklahoma, which has a significant indigenous population that has controlled gaming in the state for decades.

Oklahoma tribes feel left out

Stitt has been battling Oklahoma tribes over tobacco tax compacts, so it should come as no surprise that tribes have condemned the proposal. Their main beef, however, is that they weren’t consulted before the governor surprisingly made his plan public.

Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association Chairman Matthew Morgan said Stitt showed a lack of respect for the tribes.

“The members of the OIGA have been preparing to receive an offer from the state on sports betting for the past couple of years,” Morgan said in a statement, “and while we appreciate Gov. Stitt finally joining the sports betting conversation, to date he has not engaged in meaningful and respectful government-to-government discussion with tribes.”

In the past, most tribes have shown only lukewarm interest in sports betting.

Another bone of contention for the tribes concerns online betting being open to all sportsbooks. The tribes are well aware that the overwhelming majority of money generated from sports wagering comes from online betting. Being the exclusive home for in-person gaming is only crumbs.

Choctaw Nation Chief Gary Batton said in a statement that allowing a free-for-all with online sports betting was a non-starter.

“Upon initial review,” he said, “we do not believe the plan represents the best interests for the people of Oklahoma or the tribal nations that have done so much to support the state.”

Any proposal would be almost impossible to pass without support from tribes in Oklahoma. The tribes can honestly say they provide a significant portion of the state’s revenue. Last year, tribes paid the state $191.5 million in fees on more than $3 billion in revenue. The OIGA website says that 35 different tribal nations in Oklahoma operate more than 130 gaming facilities with over 70,000 electronic games.

Lawmakers also say they were not consulted

State Sen. Bill Coleman, co-author of a sports betting bill in the last legislative session, said the governor did not reach out to lawmakers before unveiling his proposal. He also called out Stitt for circumventing tribes.

“While the governor’s plan might be a starting point, I’ll be interested to see if he has contacted or worked with our tribal partners to get their input,” Coleman said in a statement. “A lack of coordination between the executive branch and tribal leadership was the main reason our bill stalled this session. When dealing with the tribes, compacting, and the many nuances with exclusivity and future gaming negotiations, it’s imperative that Gov. Stitt work in good faith with our tribal partners.”

Florida may provide a map for legalization

Perhaps the state most common to Oklahoma in this controversy is Florida. The state’s government officials worked with the powerful Seminole Tribe to institute sports betting. Even after hitting several snags, mainly lawsuits trying to stop the tribe from offering online sports betting, the tribe has prevailed.

After the US Court of Appeals got involved, the Hard Rock online sportsbook in Florida re-opened last week. Three Seminole casinos will open retail sports betting facilities next month.

Stitt must find a way to work with tribes to get sports betting across the finish line in Oklahoma. His track record working with them is dismal.

Millions of Texans are hoping an agreement can be found soon.

Photo by AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki
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Darren Cooper

Darren Cooper was born and raised in Southern Louisiana, just a short pirogue ride away from New Orleans. He started his journalism career at the New Orleans Times-Picayune and has been a writer and columnist in New Jersey since 1998. He's won 14 statewide press awards and earned his first Associated Press Sports Editors Top 10 award in 2022.

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