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Stitt's sports betting plan takes many tribal officials, Oklahoma lawmakers by surprise

Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt talks about slowly taking away income tax during a press conferance, Tuesday, Oct. 3, 2023, at the Oklahoma State Capitol.
Kyle Phillips
/
For Oklahoma Voice
Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt talks about slowly taking away income tax during a press conferance, Tuesday, Oct. 3, 2023, at the Oklahoma State Capitol.

Tribal officials and state lawmakers say they weren’t consulted on Gov. Kevin Stitt’s new plan to implement sports betting.

While Stitt was in Israel, his office unveiled an unexpected plan on Thursday to legalize sports betting. It included details on how mobile and in-person sports betting would be taxed and who could offer the new forms of gaming.

Tribal responses to the proposal ranged from curious to outright dismissive, with all Indigenous officials agreeing that the best way to legalize sports betting in Oklahoma is through the state and tribes working together.

Under Stitt’s proposal, Oklahoma’s tribes would have the exclusive right to offer in-person sports betting, with revenue taxed at 15%.

But the governor’s proposal on mobile sports betting doesn’t offer the tribes the same exclusivity, which could be a nonstarter for some.

Instead, any vendor willing to pay $500,000 for a license and $100,000 in annual fees would be eligible to offer mobile gaming, which would allow Oklahomans to place bets online. That revenue would be taxed at 20%.

As a result of state-tribal gaming compacts, Oklahoma’s tribes have the sole right to offer gambling in the state. Any proposal to legalize sports betting that doesn’t have their support is unlikely to pass the Oklahoma Legislature.

Choctaw Nation Chief Gary Batton said Stitt did not seek input from his tribe.

“Upon initial review, 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,” he said in a statement.

Batton did not elaborate on what he would like to see changed.

Stitt also did not reach out to the Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association on his plan, said Chairman Matthew Morgan.

“The members of the OIGA have been preparing to receive an offer from the state on sports betting for the past couple of years, 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,” Morgan said in a statement.

Any attempt to legalize sports betting must involve the Legislature and a supplemental gaming compact that protects the tribes’ “substantial gaming exclusivity,” he said.

“To approach it otherwise is simply to invite failure,” he said.

For the past year, Stitt has been an outspoken supporter of legalizing sports betting in Oklahoma.

Legislation to legalize sports gaming passed the House this year but stalled in the Senate. House Bill 1027, which proposes adding in-person and mobile sports betting as a supplement to the state’s model gaming compact with the tribes, could be revived during the legislative session that begins in February.

“I promised Oklahomans if we pursued sports betting, we would do it right — and this plan does just that,” Stitt said in a Thursday news release. “Thirty-five states have already legalized sports betting, and it’ll be a great revenue stream for the state. Tribes will be able to add it onto their existing infrastructure, and Oklahomans can access it right from their phone.”

Spokespeople for the House speaker and Senate president pro tempore said Stitt did not discuss his plans with the legislative leaders prior to Thursday’s public announcement.

Sen. Bill Coleman, R-Ponca City, a co-author of HB 1027, said the governor has never reached out to offer his input on sports betting.

In a news release, Coleman said he expects the tribes will be unenthusiastic about Stitt’s proposal because it asks them to give up their online share of sports gaming, which accounts for 95% of total revenues nationwide. Online sports betting is far more popular than in-person sportsbook at a casino or other venue.

“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. “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.”

Stitt has had a rocky relationship with many of the tribes since he unsuccessfully tried to renegotiate Oklahoma’s tribal gaming compacts in an attempt to get more revenue for the state.

Dan Boren, Chickasaw Nation secretary of commerce, said his tribe is interested in learning more about Stitt’s plan and how it may fit within the context of current state-tribal gaming compacts.

“We believe it is imperative to work together on important and complex issues such as this in order to develop agreements that honor the rights and responsibilities of federal, state, and tribal governments,” he said in a statement.

Last year, the tribes paid the state $191.5 million in gaming fees on more than $3 billion in revenue.

Stitt’s sports gaming plan would prohibit bets on the performance of individual athletes, coaches or referees. Bettors would be unable to bet on player injuries or make proposition bets on collegiate sports.

Oklahoma Voice is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Oklahoma Voice maintains editorial independence.

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