Oklahoma Gambling Expansion Seems Unlikely, Despite State Budget Gaps

Posted on: September 14, 2017, 02:00h. 

Last updated on: September 14, 2017, 03:54h.

An Oklahoma gambling expansion plan that could cover a substantial budget shortfall isn’t gaining much traction in the Oklahoma City capital.

Oklahoma gambling expansion Kevin Wallace
An Oklahoma gambling measure authored by Rep. Kevin Wallace hasn’t received a warm reception from his fellow lawmakers. (Image: Jim Beckel/The Oklahoman)

The state legislature is scheduled to return for a special session on September 25, and when it does, lawmakers will be faced with deciding the best method to fix a deficit that came as a result of a successful cigarette tax lawsuit that stripped government coffers of $215 million. State Rep. Kevin Wallace (R-Wellston) believes allowing the state’s tribal casinos to offer real dice and ball games at their Native American facilities in exchange for new payments is the solution.

Wallace’s bill would authorize table games such as craps and roulette to tribal operators on the condition that the Native American communities no longer receive rebates for their vehicle registration fees. Oklahoma’s license tag rebate program partially or fully refunds fees incurred by citizens living on Native American reservations.

Oklahoma is home to over 100 land-based casinos. With a gaming floor that measures over 600,000 square feet, the Chickasaw Nation’s WinStar World Casino and Resort is the largest casino on planet Earth.

Tribes in the Dark

The Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled last month that an approved $1.50 cigarette pack tax was unconstitutional. The fee means the government won’t be taking in hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue, as assumed in its passed 2018 fiscal budget.

Wallace wants to expand table games in order to increase tax revenue from tribal casinos. Thirty Native American tribes share varying amounts of their gross gaming proceeds from their Class III games, and also pay exclusivity fees in exchange for the state continuing to block commercial gambling.

Allowing tribes to incorporate dice and marbles to their floors has little support in the capital, nor from the casinos. Tribes seem content with offering electronic and automated craps and roulette.

“It’s unfortunate that Cherokee Nation and other tribes were not consulted on the proposal,” said Chuck Hoskin, secretary of state for the Cherokee Nation, the largest Native American population in Oklahoma. “We’ve reached out to his (Wallace) office to learn more.”

Bill Lacks Support

Though Wallace is a Republican, his state House and Senate constituents, which strongly control the legislature, aren’t willing to expand gambling to cover losses from another so-called “sin industry.”

“For me, personally, it’s a moral objection,” Senate President Pro Tempore Mike Schulz (R) stated. Schulz believes the legislature should focus on finding a new way to tax cigarette sales.

The previous attempt was overturned by the state’s high court because lawmakers passed the $1.50 surcharge as a fee, which required only a simple majority. State law, however, requires tax increases to be approved by a super majority (3/4 support), and the Oklahoma Supreme Court deemed the cigarette fee a tax.

The original cigarette bill failed to achieve a supermajority by a vote of 63-34. Schulz believes now faced with a mounting deficit, opposing lawmakers might be more willing to lend their support.