Tribes willing to Discuss Oklahoma Sports Betting with Governor Kevin Stitt

Dan Favale
By , Updated on: Aug 20, 2023 12:00 AM
Are local tribes motivated to approve Oklahoma sports betting?

The prospects of legal Oklahoma sports betting might be looking up ahead of next year’s legislative meetings. This assumes, of course, we can trust Governor Kevin Stitt or the state’s tribal leaders are the current words.

Sure, you have probably heard something similar before. The push for sports betting in Oklahoma has ranked among the bigger teases in the United States. Numerous discussions have been held by the state’s legislature. And multiple legal sports betting initiatives have been proposed right along with them. 

Some of these gambling bills have even gained eye-opening attention. One of them, in fact, was introduced just this year. House Bill 1027 made it through the Oklahoma House of Representatives with a strong approval rating. Over 70 percent of members voted the measure through to the Senate. However, despite making it through subcommittees, the Oklahoma sports betting bill was overwhelmingly rejected at the next level.

The primary season for HB 1027’s failure was—and is still—considered to be the rocky relationship between the state’s tribes and the governor’s office. Until that changes, the sports betting laws in The Sooner State will not. 

Could recent comments made by a prominent figure from the Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association suggest the required change is on the horizon?

The Governor and Tribes Have Yet to Have Meaningful Dialogue on Oklahoma Sports Betting

Speaking at the OIGA Conference and Trade Show, chair of the Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association Matthew Morgan indicated that he and other fellow members understand the importance of legal sports betting. He also noted that tribes are ready and willing to discuss what that looks like with the state. Here are the comments from Morgan, via Tulsa World’s Michael Dekker:

“‘Probably every one of your [casino] customers walk in and say, ‘Can I?’ ‘When are we going to do this? We want to have it.’ We look at 34 states across the country that have it. If and when the state…comes to us with a [sports betting] discussion, then we are prepared to have that discussion.’”

These sentiments align with what Governor Stitt and his office have said in the past. They, too, are willing to talk about the future of sports betting in Oklahoma with the tribes. And yet, this openness from both sides apparently hasn’t resulted in any material dialogue.

“[The state has] not come to us in that manner today,” Morgan explained, according to Dekker. “I don’t know if they will come to us in the future. I hear lots of things in the media where certain parties are talking to all of the colleges, and they’re talking to all the providers, and they’re talking to everyone else but us…We have an impasse with the chief executive of the state of Oklahoma.”
This impasse Morgan references is now years old. And to this day, it is still considered the single biggest roadblock to legalizing sports betting in the state of Oklahoma.

Why are Oklahoma Tribes Feuding with Governor Stitt’s Office

Many tend to complicate the issue at hand when attempting to explain it. Really, it’s very simple.

Governor Stitt’s office, along with other members of The Sooner State’s legislature, want to use sports betting as leverage to renegotiate current gaming compacts with the tribes. As it stands, the Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association has exclusive rights to all gambling formats. This would include sports betting if it’s legalized under the current structure.

Plenty of state officials, however, want to branch out from the present gaming compact. They would only be able to legalize tribal sports betting as things sit now. They’d much rather open up the laws to let the best online sportsbooks in the United States offer their services—and the lucrative tax revenue that comes with it.

Tribes have pushed back against this notion at every turn. Morgan himself reiterated their opposition at the OIGA Conference and Trade Show. Governor Stitt and company need that stance to shift if they’re going to allow major corporations into the fold. 

Does the Oklahoma Sports Betting Debate Have a Middle Ground? 

Compromise could accelerate the Oklahoma sports betting timeline. And the fact that both the tribes and governor’s office have said they’re willing to negotiate should be a good sign. Emphasis on should.

Neither side appears willing to budge right now. Certain state officials, in particular, continue to believe they hold all the leverage. Tribes may have exclusive gaming rights, but they need sports betting to maximize their own business model. Some seem to think they’ll eventually cave.

Still, that’s not a guarantee. Allowing corporate sportsbooks into the market would increase competition within the market. That’s not necessarily good for tribal business models. Not only is their reach within the online sports betting bucket noticeably shorter, but by making sports gambling widely available, there’s a strong chance foot traffic in casinos trends toward a decline.

Middle grounds always exist on these issues. The state could limit the number of out-of-town operators they allow into the market. Oklahoma could also insist all online sportsbooks partner up with a casino as part of semi-joint ventures. Tax breaks could be given to retail locations run by tribes. Portions of the tax revenue generated from sports betting could also be funneled their way.

To this point, though, the state doesn’t seem to have entertained those terms, let alone offered them. And who knows whether tribes would even be amenable to them. For as much as both sides claim they’re ready to speak, the lack of conversation speaks volumes—and not in a good way.

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Meet the author

Dan Favale

Dan first began writing about sports back in 2011. At the time, his expertise lied in the NBA and NFL. More than one decade, that remains the case. But he's also expanded his catalog to include extensive knowledge and analysis on the NHL, MLB, tennis, NASCAR, college ba...

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