Oklahoma Sports Betting Supporters Urge Governor to Take Action

Dan Favale
By , Updated on: Jun 28, 2023 12:00 AM
Is Governor Kevin Stitt responsible for botched Oklahoma sports betting?

In the aftermath of yet another failed Oklahoma sports betting bill, supporters of legal gambling are urging the state's governor, Kevin Stitt, to take action.

This push comes on the heels of House Bill 1027 failing to clear its imposed deadline for approval. Though it cruised through the House of Representatives, receiving a groundswell of support, it failed to gain enough traction in the Senate. HB 1027 was never even put to a vote on the Senate floor amid various concerns.

None of this is directly related to Governor Stitt. He is a known advocate for sports betting in Oklahoma and hasn't done anything to impede discussions within the state's legislature. But his relationship with the local tribes has been tenuous at best for years. And that strained dynamic is, in fact, considered a roadblock to legal sports gambling in Oklahoma.

On the heels of the latest betting-initiative whiff, the primary author of HB 1027 is calling for Stitt to take action and optimize the process in time for the next attempt. But what exactly can he do? And more importantly, is he actually prepared to do it?

Let's try to find out.

Senator Bill Coleman Believes the Governor Must Repair Relationship with Tribes to Facilitate Oklahoma Sports Betting

Senator Bill Coleman, a Republican representing District 10, cobbled together the terms and structure of HB 1027. His involvement and support was seen as a step in the right direction. Anytime a Republican Senator pushes for sports betting legislation in a notoriously conservative state, it suggests approval isn't that far off. 

In some ways, this situation is no different. There was optimism that HB 1027 struck all the right notes. It would have legalized in-person wagering at casinos and permitted Oklahomans to also use the best online sports betting sites in the United States. The latter had previously been a point of contention. Many policymakers were worried about pushing too much of the sports betting revenue outside the state. There was also, and as always, concern among tribal executives. Seasoned online sportsbooks generally cut into their business model.

Convincing the tribes to support any proposal like this is critical to its success. Sports betting in Oklahoma may not be legal, but the tribes have exclusive rights to the state's gaming operations. Ergo, sports gambling cannot be legalized, in any form, without their consent. This is ultimately why Senator Coleman believes any future initiatives will remain in limbo unless Governor Stitt reaches out to the tribes. He has conveyed as much publicly, too. Consider this excerpt from an article by ABC 5's Andy Weber;

"State Sen. Bill Coleman said before legislation can be passed, the governor and the tribes need to sit down and hammer things out, arguing nothing can move forward until that happens. 'My opinion is that it was missing a conversation between the governor and the tribes,' he explained. 'I think those two parties really need to sit down and work out on sports betting.' There is no new word from the tribes or the governor, but they’ve both said they are open to having sportsbooks in Oklahoma as long as either side gets a fair deal."

Despite both sides displaying a willingness to talk, it doesn't appear they have done so. Which raises the question: Is this why HB 1027 failed to make it past the Senate?

Was Governor Stitt's Relationship with State Tribes the Reason HB 1027 Failed to Advance?

As we mentioned at the onset, the failure to pass HB 1027 isn't being attributed directly to Governor Stitt. Many Oklahoma lawmakers held concerns over the increased risk of gambling addiction in markets with legal sports betting. That was considered a driving force of the equivocation.

Still, this dynamic is by no means blameless. Just as many Oklahoma lawmakers seemed skeptical that Governor Stitt's office would be able to sell the tribes on the structure of HB 1027 once it passed. As a result, they were hesitant to focus all that much on it. There were other issues deemed more pressing that had more realistic and imminent paths to resolution.

Outsiders have pointed out that the Senate could have simply passed HB 1027 and hoped that Govern Stitt and the tribes could hash out an agreement. But as Senator Coleman noted, that's just not going to happen. "That negotiation needed to happen before the fact because we weren’t sure all parties were in agreement on the numbers and the way that bill was done," he explained.

Will Governor Stitt Sit Down with Tribes to Speak About Oklahoma Sports Betting Before the Next Round of Legislature Meetings?

This is now the question everyone is left asking. Rightfully so, too. The state legislature will meet again in 2024, at which time they're once more expected to pursue the legalization of sports betting. The hope is to put another Oklahoma sports betting initiative on the general election ballot that coming fall.

But that goal means very little if Stitt and the tribes aren't on the same page. And right now, it isn't clear whether they'll have meaningful dialogue in the months to come. 

Tribes remain disgruntled at Stitt's previous attempt to renegotiate gaming compacts with a select group. He has so far maintained that he didn't do anything wrong. This is a matter of both pride and ignorance, and most tend to believe Stitt's the party who acted out of turn. 

To that end, Oklahomans in favor of sports betting can merely hope the governor recognizes as much. Because if he doesn't get on the same page as the tribes by the start of next year, we're destined to be talking about yet another failed attempt to legalize sports gambling in The Sooner State.

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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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