In 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court cleared the way for states to legalize sports betting, and on any given weekend, the activity generates big bucks nationwide.  If Gov. Kevin Stitt and certain lawmakers prevail, sports wagering will be legalized in Oklahoma. The state is among several others that currently do not allow legal sports betting – with major hold-outs including California, Texas and Alabama. 

Proponents point to the legalization of table games, horse racing, ball and dice games, bingo and electronic gaming, saying Oklahoma is leaving money on the table in the form of annual tax revenue in the tens of millions of dollars generated by sports betting. The governor has said in published reports: “I just want Oklahoma to know that I want to get this rolled out for them, because I think Oklahomans want it.”  

Gov. Stitt has also stated that he wants Oklahomans to be able to place bets on their phones, for proceeds to go to economic development or education, and for the entire matter to be transparent and auditable.

The Current Status

This isn’t the first time Oklahoma legislators have worked towards legalizing sports betting. In mid-2022,  state representative Ken Luttrell from Ponca City wrote a bill that failed to get a vote on the floor. 

But now, with a renewed enthusiasm bolstered by the governor’s support, a new bill was  presented late last year.  The bill – HB 1027 – is gaining traction and was forwarded to the subcommittee for further consideration on Feb. 14.

“The [Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association] takes the stance that the clearest and safest way to have a sports gambling gaming component [legally available to the public] is if the legislature passes a supplement to the gaming compact,” says Matthew Morgan, chairman of the OIGA.  “Legislation 1027 is a vehicle to offer to change state law to allow sports betting. The legislation and the governor must be on the same page. 

“But OIGA is ready to work with them, see what is possible there. We’re there to assist, to provide some input and help them understand issues.”

The Potential Gains

Gaming is a form of entertainment, says Morgan. Making sports gambling legal in Oklahoma would mean having more types of games available and increasing the likelihood of people coming to casinos to use entertainment dollars there. 

With a hefty percentage of casino patrons coming from out of state, tourism dollars are then also increased, which benefits the state economy, Morgan says – as casino patrons buy gasoline, food and accommodations.

“For the tribes that may take on the risks of legalized sports gambling, they have to figure out if it makes sense for them, because it’s all to increase revenue to go back to their citizens. So whatever is decided, the tribes will have to see if it can be utilized in ways to benefit them,” says Morgan.

“Like any economic endeavor, we have to make sure that this idea works not just in theory but in application,” he says. “It’s appropriate to task the potential operators with the question: ‘How do you see it working?’ so it can benefit the tribes and the state. 

Right now, they are either going to get a jurisdiction where it’s legal, like Kansas, Colorado, New Mexico, Arkansas – or else people will be doing it illegally on the internet – and neither the tribes or state are benefitting from those dollars,” he continues. “That being said – it must make economic sense for everyone. Many of our members are saying ‘Yes, it’s the path forward,’ but it’s up to the state.”

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