OKLAHOMA CITY — A state lawmaker wants to allow tribes to offer sports betting for the first time in casinos in a bid to bolster public school funding and legalize a multi-million dollar underground industry.
State Rep. Ken Luttrell, R-Ponca City, said besides creating over 3,000 new jobs, legalizing sports wagering would be an economic boon to the tribes, the state and public education, which benefits from the state’s tribal compacts.
His bill comes nearly four years after a 2018 U.S. Supreme Court ruling found the federal Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act was unconstitutional. In place since 1992, it barred most states from allowing sports wagering. The ruling opened the door for state legislatures to decide whether they want to end existing bans and try to capitalize on the billions illegally wagered each year.
Already, 30 other states have legalized sports betting and another 15 are looking at legalizing it, Luttrell said, adding that Oklahoma is now lagging other states.
“I hope that it doesn’t end up just being a moral issue of expanding gaming,” he said. “It’s the right time to get out in front of this and protect our gaming interests that we have in the state already and keep Oklahoma dollars in Oklahoma instead of leaving the state to do legal sports betting in Arkansas and Kansas.”
Luttrell said the timing is right for House Bill 3008 because the state is in a good position financially and there’s no rush to get it done to balance the budget.
He also said legalizing sports betting has previously met resistance from Oklahoma legislators because there’s a perception that it’s just expanding gaming in a “Bible Belt state,” but he said sports betting is an underground economy, much like the marijuana industry before Oklahoma voters legalized it.
“My feeling on it is it is the right time to do it,” Luttrell said. “It’s a win-win both for the tribes, for the state of Oklahoma (and) for education funding in particular since that’s one of the dedicated uses of the state’s gambling income.”
He said the Oxford Economics Group estimates that legal betting would generate $240 million in new revenue, and he hopes that fellow Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt will also be supportive of allowing casino wagering.
Matthew Morgan, chairman of the Oklahoman Indian Gaming Association, said he’s not had time to poll members yet, but said Luttrell’s bill is a conversation starter.
“Oklahoma with its gaming industry, would make sense that it’d be something that our attentions turn to, but again I think that the conversation really gets down into the details and does it make economic sense,” Morgan said.
He said that tribes would expect to have exclusive rights to offer sports betting under the state’s tribal gaming compacts. Voter-approved compacts have long granted Oklahoma’s tribes the sole right to operate casinos in exchange for paying the state exclusivity fees ranging from 4% to 10%, depending on the game.
Over the past decade, lawmakers also have become reliant on casino gaming fees, which also fund other services for Oklahomans beyond education.
Morgan said it only takes legislative action to supplement the compacts, but Stitt would have the power to veto any agreement. If legalized, individual tribes would then determine if they wanted to offer sports betting.
Morgan said historically Oklahoma has never been a first mover in the gaming world. He said the state didn’t enter into gaming compacts until 2004 — more than 16 years after it was first allowed — and that action only came through a vote of the people, not through legislative action.
He said it’s important that the Legislature understand that the dynamics of each form of gaming is different and so are the odds. He said he knows a lot of people are pointing to projected revenues that could result from legalization of sports betting. And while there’s a lot of money that flows back and forth, there’s a very narrow percentage gain for the operators, he said.
“You’re not creating a new form of gaming and hoping people come to take you up on your offering,” Morgan said. “It’s taking people that are illegally betting now and moving them into a form of gambling that would be legalized.”
In 2018, shortly after the Supreme Court ruling, some Oklahoma lawmakers noted that professional football, basketball and baseball leagues had also expressed interest in making money off legalized betting in Oklahoma.
Charlie Hannema, spokesman for Stitt, said the governor is “open to any compact as long as it is a fair deal, enforceable, and provides the transparency and accountability all 4 million Oklahomans deserve.”
Janelle Stecklein covers the Oklahoma Statehouse for CNHI's newspapers and websites. Reach her at email@example.com.