Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt has taken official action against the gaming compacts he signed with four small tribes back in 2020. The move comes more than two years after he negotiated highly controversial terms. And for the time being, it leaves the matter of sports betting in Oklahoma facing more questions than answers.
According to the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs (OCPA), a recent federal court filing shows that Governor Stitt's "administration argues that gaming compacts negotiated with four smaller Oklahoma tribes in 2020 remain legally valid under the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) even though the Oklahoma Supreme Court later ruled the compacts were not allowed under state law." This move is believed to be part of a "multi-year effort by Stitt to alter the landscape of casino gambling in Oklahoma so smaller tribes receive greater financial benefit from gaming activity even as the state government receives a larger share of revenue from casino gambling."
If Stitt is successful, Oklahoma could face a clearer path to the legalization of sports betting. If he fails, the issue will likely continue to be back-burnered until the state's casino policies are more ironclad.
What should we expect for Oklahoma sports betting moving forward? Let's dig into the details.
What Makes the Gaming Compacts Brokered by Oklahoma Governor Stitt so Controversial?
Historically, Oklahoma tribal casinos have operated under blanket procedure. Any benefit allowed to one applied to all of them.
But Governor Stitt changed that when he individually negotiated gaming compacts with four separate tribes during the year 2020. Four other tribes in the state subsequently sued on the grounds this violated the IGRA. The matter has been tangled in litigation ever since—literally for multiple years.
All along, however, Governor Stitt has maintained he did nothing wrong. "Moving forward, the state will continue to negotiate with individual tribes, leaving behind the one-size-fits-all approach to the model gaming compacts," he explained at the time, according to Oklahoma's NPR News Station.
This move—and the logic behind it—was met with boatloads of resistance. Then-Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter sent a letter to the United States' Department of the Interior outlining how Stitt had overstepped his purview. He also noted how much confusion these individual gaming compacts would create among the state's tribes.
However, the argument against Governor Stitt and the gaming compacts he negotiated has so far failed to generate enough traction to overturn them. The Department of the Interior has 45 days to review any such compacts, and the agreements in question went through without any push-back more than two years ago.
Here's How the Ongoing Casino Battle in Oklahoma Impacts Sports Betting
Any push for legal sports betting in Oklahoma will require the cooperation of state tribes and their appetite for amending gaming compacts that currently include a level of exclusivity. While smaller tribes who primarily benefited from Governor Stitt expanding the market in their favor, the larger tribes inside the state aren't fans of his gaming compacts.
This has led to hostile relations between a majority of Oklahoma tribes and Governor Stitt's office. That is not conducive to even broaching the sports betting subject.
Quite predictably, Oklahoma sports betting probably won't be legalized for some time as a result. The relationship between the state and their larger tribes needs to improve first.
Even then, there is no guarantee the larger tribes welcome the opportunity to capitalize on sports betting. If the gaming compacts negotiated by Governor Stitt stands, the casino market in Oklahoma will be more competitive than ever, and permitting more sportsbooks to enter the market with online wagering ensures that heightened competition only intensifies.
The Path to Sports Betting in Oklahoma is Bleak
Oklahomans would do well to brush up on the top reviewed online sportsbooks that allow anyone in the United States to set up and service an account. Because you're not going to have legal sports betting your state unless something drastically changes.
Relations between the larger tribes and Oklahoma don't appear on the verge of improving anytime soon. If anything, they're about to worsen following Governor Stitt's federal court filing.
In the event Oklahoma's separate tribal gaming compacts are overturned, there might be a chance that the larger tribes can lobby for legal sports betting. But it isn't clear if they're even in favor of sports betting at the moment. And even if they are, they likely won't support the institution of Oklahoma online sports betting. Heck, given how opposed they are to smaller tribes opening casinos, larger tribes may not even approve the wide-spread issuance of on-site betting licenses.
For what it's worth, the future of Oklahoma sports betting should gain more clarity during the state's 2023 legislative meetings. However, the deadline to submit bills for consideration during these sessions is January 19. That's roughly one month away at this writing. And as things stand, Oklahoma has yet to propose a sports betting initiative.
Frankly, this probably won't change in the coming weeks. The Stitt vs. Larger Tribes drama needs to be resolved first. And years-long issues don't just disappear overnight. So, given the current state of affairs, it's far more likely any legal Oklahoma sports betting discussions get pushed back until 2024. And even that might be an overly optimistic timeline.
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