Patrick B. McGuigan
OKLAHOMA CITY – Revenues generated by the Oklahoma Tribal Gaming Act, passed by state citizens in a 2004 referendum, have become an important part of budget planning for the state government, according to an analysis of gaming compliance data documents.
Often frustrated with apologia for hefty federal spending even decades ago, the late U.S. Sen. Everett Dirksen of Illinois used to say, “A billion here, and a billion there, and pretty soon you’re talking real money.”
When it comes to Indian gaming, the impact is a cumulative $1 billion to boost state coffers in the last decade, and billions annually in broader economic impact. That’s real money.
For a non-economist, the impact easiest to monitor is found in the Oklahoma Gaming Compliance Unit Annual Report. The report is prepared by an arm of the Office of Management and Enterprise Services, part of the executive branch run by Gov. Mary Fallin.
Oklahoma has 39 federally-recognized Native American tribes. Of that number, 33 Tribes have established gaming compacts.
Under the various State-Tribal gaming compacts, ‘compacted’ tribes pay a monthly “exclusivity fee” to our state government. This assures the tribes a sole right to operate compacted gaming.
For the various covered electronic games at Indian casinos in the Sooner State, fees are calculated based on 4 percent of the first $10 million in adjusted gross revenues, 5 percent of the next $10 million in AGR, and then 6 percent of all revenues over $20 million.
As for the table games, the fee is 10 percent of monthly “net win.”
According to the Oklahoma Gaming Compliance Unit Annual Report for Fiscal Year 2014, the state collected $122,621,628 last fiscal year. Although this was below the total in both FY 2013 ($128.1 million) and FY 2012 ($123.0 million) it was nonetheless higher than the sum garnered in FY 2011 and in all previous years.
To sum up, as of the latest available data, Oklahoma’s compacted tribes had paid the state $979.7 million in exclusivity fees since 2006. When total fees for the recently concluded Fiscal Year 2015 are incorporated, the total payment of exclusivity fees since 2006 will surpass $1 billion, in this writer’s projection.
In all, Oklahoma has 124 gaming operations owned and operated by Native American tribes, ranging from casinos, hotels/resorts, other facilities (including restaurants and bars), spas, recreational vehicle (RV) parks, and golf courses.
From recent reports, analysts project more than $4 billion in tribal gaming revenue in 2014. Oklahoma gaming revenues have risen faster than the national average.
In the state, gaming operations have created more than 23,277 jobs (most of those full-time with benefits including health care and other benefits such as dental, retirement, and life insurance).
While tribal facilities have some tax exemptions, total payroll taxes paid at Indian Gaming facilities exceeds $200 million – and, that is likely a low estimate. Most employees at these institutions pay the same state and federal taxes as other Oklahomans. The tribes withhold state income taxes as do other businesses.
Industry analysts maintain that most employees in tribal gaming operations are not citizens of the tribes. Even those with exemptions exercise them under limited conditions. Tribal operations yield significant revenues for federal coffers, and for such programs as Social Security and Medicare.
Gaming operations result in both direct and indirect spending as part of the Oklahoma economy.
Industry insiders assert over $1 billion in gaming spending with other businesses; and more than another $1 billion in spending by employees of the gaming facilities.
Taken as a whole, direct and indirect economic impacts from Oklahoma Indian gaming are certain to exceed more than $5 billion annually.
Editor's note: This story first appeared in the October 2015 edition of The City Sentinel newspaper.