Sportsbook betting not an urgent issue for tribes

BY D. SEAN ROWLEY
Senior Reporter
12/26/2020 10:00 AM
Main Cherokee Phoenix
Matthew Morgan, Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association chairman, believes tribes and the state are less interested in legalizing sportsbook gambling with the COVID-19 pandemic raging. SUE OGROCKI/ASSOCIATED PRESS
OKLAHOMA CITY – Despite talk about renegotiated tribal gaming compacts possibly leading to sports wagering in Oklahoma, it appears there is no urgency to legalize “sportsbook” gambling in the state.

The issue of sports gambling has been motionless since October, when Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt chose not to challenge the federal court ruling stating that the state’s tribal gaming compacts renewed automatically at the beginning of 2020.

Under the renewed compacts, the tribes pay the state 4% to 10% of revenue to exclusively offer Class III gaming, which includes slot machines, craps and roulette. The state collected $150 million from fees in 2019.

During their legal disagreement with the governor’s office, the tribes maintained that any adjustments to the compacts must result from both parties agreeing to renegotiate the terms. To add sportsbook wagering – currently illegal in Oklahoma – approval from the state Legislature would also be needed.

“Sports betting, or any other supplements to the gaming compact, need to be discussed in a thoughtful and respectful manner that makes sense for our market, shows proper respect for our tribal contributions and ultimately provides benefits for all sides,” Matthew Morgan, Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association chairman, said.

In some gambling quarters, there was thought that the coronavirus pandemic – with its attending economic destruction – might make sportsbook an attractive revenue opportunity for the tribes and the state.

Morgan said the pandemic has multiple effects. With COVID raging, even meeting to discuss and legalize sportsbook would be problematic. The 2020 Oklahoma legislative session gaveled in and out as quickly as possible, mostly addressing health care issues.

Morgan said the tribes have the same priorities.

“Right now, tribal leadership is focused on taking care of their communities, to help get people through the pandemic,” he said. “That is the most urgent business.”

On May 14, 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Murphy v. NCAA that the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act violated the U.S. Constitution’s 10th Amendment, which delegates many non-specified powers to the states.

The ruling did not legalize sportsbook everywhere, but it means individual states can legalize sports wagering within their borders without interference from federal laws.

Sportsbook gambling also doesn’t add that much revenue, according to the Associated Press, which found that sports wagering accounts for less than 1% of state revenue when the industry hits its projections – and the AP found in 2019 that those estimates aren’t met in most states.

Short term, the legalization and availability of sportsbook appears unlikely. Morgan has said that “I think tribal leaders are willing to have that conversation” within “parameters” and with “respect.”

The respect is important to tribes during what could be some necessary fence mending with the state – particularly the governor’s office. Legislative leaders filed lawsuits that essentially supported the tribes’ position, as did legal opinions by Attorney General Mike Hunter.

Many tribal government expressed the belief that Stitt ignored plain language in the gaming compact and tried to strong-arm the tribes into negotiations.

The compacts negotiated by Stitt with the Comanche Nation and the Otoe-Missouria Tribe contained language that allowed for sports betting, as well as house-banked table and card games.

In September, the Comanche and Otoe-Missouria tribes announced they would adhere to the new compacts, without offering the house-banked games and sportsbook. The tribes argued that the Oklahoma Supreme Court, after refusing a rehearing request from Stitt on the validity of the compacts, intruded on federal and tribal jurisdiction.

The Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw and Citizen Potawatomie nations have filed suit against Stitt, U.S. Secretary of the Interior David L. Bernhardt, the Comanche Nation and the Otoe-Missouria Tribe. The plaintiffs say those agreements initially allow lower fee percentages for the Comanche and Otoe-Missouria than other tribes pay under their compacts. All Oklahoma tribes agreed to the same exclusivity terms that went into effect in 2005.
About the Author
Sean Rowley was hired by the Cherokee Phoenix at the beginning of 2019. Sean was born a long time ago in Tulsa, where he grew up and attended Booker T. Washington High School as a freshman before moving to Pawnee County and graduating from Cleveland High School in 1987. 

He graduated sans honors from Northeastern State University in 1992 with a bachelor of arts in mass communication with emphases in advertising and public relati ...
david-rowley@cherokee.org • 918-453-5560
Sean Rowley was hired by the Cherokee Phoenix at the beginning of 2019. Sean was born a long time ago in Tulsa, where he grew up and attended Booker T. Washington High School as a freshman before moving to Pawnee County and graduating from Cleveland High School in 1987. He graduated sans honors from Northeastern State University in 1992 with a bachelor of arts in mass communication with emphases in advertising and public relati ...

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