Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt recently unveiled his latest attempt to legalize sports betting, but with existing tribal gaming exclusivity and legislative turmoil, the plan’s prospects do not appear promising.
Stitt announced earlier this month an Oklahoma sports betting proposal that would open access to the state’s mobile market beyond tribal gaming. The proposal is a long shot, however, as Stitt did not consult Oklahoma legislators or the state’s tribes, which control gaming through compacts. Stitt will need the support of both to realize his sports betting aspirations.
Stitt failed to rally both tribes and lawmakers around the issue since taking office in 2019, and representatives from both parties told LSR this month he did not seek their advice on the situation. Still, Stitt has hope for his new plan.
“I promised to Oklahomans if we pursued sports betting, we would do it right – and this plan does just that,” Stitt said in the announcement. “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.”
Oklahoma tribes excluded from mobile
Stitt’s proposal would allow in-person sportsbooks at tribal casinos.
Mobile sports betting, however, would be available to any operator for a $500,000 license fee and a 20% share of gross sports betting revenue. Operators would pay a $100,000 annual license renewal fee.
Across the US sports betting landscape, mobile sportsbooks generally comprise at least 90% of a state’s handle. That means most revenue from the gaming expansion would likely end up outside of the state’s tribal landscape.
Tribes already at odds with Stitt
At a conference this summer, Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association Chairman Matthew Morgan told LSR the tribes and legislature are in good-faith negotiations and hinted at growing frustration with Stitt. Following Stitt’s proposal, Morgan released a new statement on the situation:
“The Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association was not consulted prior to Gov. Stitt releasing his sport betting plan. 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.
“We remain hopeful that he is committed to moving forward in a productive manner in accord with established law and process, which would include working with the Oklahoma Legislature to offer a compact supplement to tribes within the State-Tribal Gaming Act construct that protects the tribes’ ‘substantial gaming exclusivity.’ To approach it otherwise is simply to invite failure.”
A coalition of five Oklahoma tribes released a statement in July that said Stitt’s previous efforts threatened “to undo decades of work and damage to tribal-state cooperation for generations to come.”
Hurdles for Oklahoma sports betting
Since taking office, Stitt has attempted to legalize sports betting through tribal compacts, only to run into opposition from tribes, as well as the state legislature that is controlled by Stitt’s own Republican Party. Oklahoma courts denied Stitt’s 2020 attempt to legalize sports betting through two updated compacts after legislators sued.
During the 2023 legislative session, a sports betting bill from Rep. Ken Luttrell and Sen. Bill Coleman passed the House but failed to advance in the Senate. Luttrell told KFOR-TV this month that Stitt’s plan does not work.
“He cannot enter into contracts between the state and outside vendors to do mobile sports betting,” Luttrell said. “Hopefully, this will open some dialog with negotiations between the Governor and myself, Senator Coleman and the tribes.”
Oklahoma legislature poses problem
Stitt’s previous efforts to implement sports betting through compacts failed to garner support from most of the state’s tribes and the legislature. Former Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter said Stitt could not contradict existing compacts, and a 2020 US District Court ruling found the compacts renewed for 15 years in 2020.
The new proposal also would need legislative approval. Stitt, however, did not consult legislative leadership ahead of announcing the plan, according to House Speaker Charles McCall.
“As we know from last session, sports betting is a very complicated issue,” McCall said in a statement to LSR this month. “The governor didn’t discuss his plan with me before his announcement, and the House will need time to review and discuss his proposal with all interested parties. That being said, the House is always open to good ideas, and I look forward to reviewing his proposal in greater detail.”
Compromise needed for Oklahoma sports betting
Legislators in Oklahoma are growing impatient with Stitt’s solo attempts to expand Oklahoma gaming. Senate President Pro Tempore Greg Treat told the Associated Press lawmakers will give the governor one more year before taking over compact negotiations.
Coleman, the sports betting legislation sponsor, said any OK sports betting initiative has nuances that require all the parties to work together.
“It became clear during the process that there are too many unresolved issues that ultimately killed it this year,” Coleman told KFOR-TV earlier this year. “This legislation will take more than just passing a bill through the legislature. When dealing with our tribal partners, compacting, and all the nuances that come with exclusivity and future gaming negotiations, we must get the governor in the same room with tribal leaders to build upon the conversation started this year by the legislature.”