The gaming industry, one of Oklahoma’s largest employers, is having a banner year

Commercial casinos, sports betting and online gaming sites brought in more money than ever in the United States last year as casinos rebounded from pandemic shutdowns, the leading business group in the United States said on Tuesday. industry.

American Gaming Association President Bill Miller said he was optimistic about future growth as business and international travel continues to pick up.

The optimism is a positive sign for Oklahoma’s economy, where tribal governments and the casinos they own are among the state’s largest employers. Oklahoma is home to the largest gambling market outside of Nevada and California.

“Despite the uncertainties the pandemic continues to present, from labor shortages to supply chain disruptions, our incredible rate of recovery sets us apart from others in the hospitality industry and economy in general,” Miller said.

By the numbers: The gaming industry in Oklahoma

How casinos have recovered from the pandemic

Commercial gaming operators generated $53 billion in revenue in 2021, up 21% from the previous record set in 2019. Tribal gaming likely brought in $35-40 billion last year, the American Gaming Association research director David Forman, who added that regulators have yet to release the exact amount.

“Everything indicates that the tribal game has also seen a strong recovery,” he said.

Many tribal leaders have described 2021 as the best year on record, Miller said. His group lists three of Oklahoma’s four largest tribal gaming operators, the Chickasaw, Choctaw, and Cherokee nations, as “core members.”

The three tribes were among Oklahoma’s 10 largest employers last year, with at least 8,500 employees each, according to the state Department of Commerce. The WinStar World Casino and Resort, owned by Chickasaw near the Oklahoma-Texas border, claims to be the largest casino in the world with over 7,000 machines.

Forman cited Oklahoma as evidence of the revival of tribal gambling in the United States. The tribes paid the state more than $160 million in exclusivity fees — a record amount — between July 1, 2020 and June 30, 2021.

The state spends most of the money on education, but a fraction goes into the general fund and $250,000 is spent on addiction services.

For tribal governments, gaming revenue makes up a significant portion of annual budgets and pays for services, infrastructure, and economic development projects.

The pandemic has changed the way Americans bet

Revenues plummeted in 2020 after the COVID-19 pandemic shuttered almost all casinos for weeks or months. The pandemic has also introduced fundamental shifts in consumer behavior, Miller said.

The average age of casino visitors has dropped by five years, from 49 to 44, possibly because casinos were among the first entertainment venues to reopen and older people may have been more cautious coming back,” Forman said.

At the same time, more and more people went online and casino operators looked for new ways to reach them. “You want to be where the customer is,” Miller said.

The state's share of casino revenue fell in Oklahoma in 2020 due to temporary shutdowns, but quickly rebounded in late 2020 and early 2021, according to state statistics.

Oklahoma is one of seven states considering legislation to legalize sports betting this year. Twenty-five states, plus Washington, DC, have already approved it in one form or another.

House Bill 3003, sponsored by Rep. Ken Luttrell, R-Ponca City, would allow in-person sports betting at tribal casinos. The state would receive 10% of the profits. The bill has yet to come out of committee hearings.

People still bet on sports in states where sports betting isn’t legal, Forman said. One indicator is online search traffic for illegal offshore betting sites, which is declining in states where betting is legal, he said.

Miller described illegal gambling, both online and at unregulated machines that appear in bars and gas stations, as one of the biggest problems facing the gambling industry. like termites are eating the floor of your house, and we are the house,” he said of the unregulated machines.

Governor Kevin Stitt has previously expressed support for sports betting, but his position on Luttrell’s proposal is unclear.

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How Tribal Gambling Works in Oklahoma

Stitt has been a harsh critic of the state-tribal gambling pact since shortly after taking office. In 2019, he launched a failed bid to force the tribes to renegotiate terms.

Under the agreement, the 33 tribes that operate casinos pay monthly fees to Oklahoma in exchange for exclusive Class III gaming rights. The State collects between 4% and 6% of the income collected by the machines and 10% by the table games.

The state also receives a share of money wagered at Oklahoma’s two racetracks, Chickasaw-owned Remington Park in Oklahoma City and Cherokee-owned Will Rogers Downs in Claremore. Together, they generated nearly $145.8 million in revenue last year, according to the state, which received $29.8 million from the funds, 63% more than in 2020.

Molly Young covers Indigenous affairs for the USA Today Network’s Sunbelt region. Reach her at [email protected] or 405-347-3534.

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