Right now, if you visit a tribal casino in Oklahoma, you can wager on horse races or try your luck at blackjack, but you can’t bet on how the Oklahoma Sooners will fare in their next basketball game. That could be about to change with the newest Oklahoma sports betting bill.
The bill doesn’t do anything to disrupt the status quo when it comes to gambling in the state. Instead, it merely affords those who control gaming within its borders a new option to part customers from their money.
What is and isn’t in the Oklahoma sports betting bill
The bill, HB3008, is pretty short and sweet. It amends the state code to make “sports pools” among the “covered games” permissible under the terms of compacts between the state government, the US Dept. of the Interior, and tribal gaming authorities.
Rep. Ken Luttrell introduced the bill. Within the borders of OK, 33 different tribes operate nearly 150 distinct gaming facilities. The bill contains an addendum to their compacts that would govern the new wagering activity.
If Luttrell’s bill were to become law, each tribe would have the option to add the addendum to their existing compacts. Upon approval of the amendments from the Interior’s Bureau of Indian Affairs, tribes’ properties could immediately start taking bets on sporting events.
The bill calls for a 10% payment to the state of monthly net win. It defines that term as “all money wagered less prizes paid out and less applicable federal taxes.” It also says that each tribe may keep an amount equal to payments made to the state for itself.
The bill does not address the permissibility of online wagering under tribes’ auspices in any way. Instead, it maintains tribes’ exclusivity in OK for all gambling. In that way, it leaves that issue to them to wrangle with.
Could OK tribes offer mobile wagering?
With current interpretations of federal gambling laws, the issue of whether tribal casinos can offer online sports betting is a murky one at best. The Indian Gaming Regulatory Act says that compact holders cannot provide gambling outside their sovereign lands.
A narrow reading of that law would confine online betting to tribal territories in OK. Attempts to challenge or redefine the law have met mixed success. For example, recently in Florida, the Seminole Tribe attempted to offer statewide mobile wagering while satisfying the IGRA by hosting the servers on their lands.
The BIA originally approved the gaming compact with those terms. However, challenges to it in civil court by non-tribal gaming interests in FL have proven successful. Today, the Seminoles are not taking bets online in FL.
Tribes in OK could go the same route and see if any parties in the state put forth similar challenges. They could also take a wait-and-see approach to online sports betting. A bill in the US Congress could provide them some freedom here.
Under the status quo, it seems like the safest option for OK tribal casinos is to restrict sports betting to in-person action only. Other states like New Mexico and North Carolina have that exact structure for legal sports betting. There could be another option, though.
Might this Oklahoma bill just be a precursor to more collaboration?
A better option might be to mimic nearby Arizona. That would require tribes to give up some of their exclusivity when it comes to gaming in OK, though. In AZ, tribal groups also control the vast majority of gambling.
That’s except for sports betting. Last year, the tribes gave up their exclusivity over that in exchange for more casinos and new table games added to their compacts. Professional sports teams also offer online and retail sports betting in AZ.
While the Oklahoma City Thunder are the only such enterprise in OK, there is still room for a comparable state-tribal partnership. The state legislature could simply regulate online sports betting statewide and only grant licenses to tribal gaming entities.
For now, though, the question of whether they can even offer retail wagering is for Luttrell’s colleagues to decide. If they vote in the affirmative, tribal casinos in OK may have new options for visitors later this year.