Indian gaming benefits Oklahoma in many ways. Oklahoma tribes operate about 95 gaming facilities, with gross revenues of nearly $2 billion in 2006. This revenue directly or indirectly supports more than 50,000 jobs in the state. Treasurer Scott Meacham recently estimated that the state receives between $60 million and $70 million annually from the tribes, and this number is expected to rise. Gaming also allows tribes to assist county and local governments by making financial contributions for highway- and bridge-building projects and police and fire departments. For example, the Chickasaw Nation built a $1.7 million sewage treatment plant for Goldsby and a $2.1 million water tower for Newcastle.
Although bingo has been played in Indian country since the Fifties at community centers and churches, the modern era of "high-stakes" bingo began in the late Seventies. The Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, signed by President Ronald Reagan in October 1988, left high-stakes bingo under the control of tribal governments and required tribal and state governments to sign a "compact" for casino-style gaming. Congress saw the act as a way for tribal governments to raise funds for governmental services " education, health care and social services " that the federal government had pledged to support in treaties and statutes.
In a 2004 referendum, Oklahomans passed the State-Tribal Gaming Act by a margin of 60 percent. The referendum allowed certain casino-style gaming machines and card games at tribal casinos. It has already achieved its goals of increasing education funding and stimulating the state's horse-racing industry, as evidenced by the growing revenue-sharing payments made for education and the resurgence of Oklahoma's horse tracks. Cherokee Casino Will Rogers Downs has been revitalized, and Remington Park has become a target for acquisition with attendance increasing more than 20 percent in 2007.
As the Indian gaming industry continues to grow, it will create more good jobs for Oklahomans and provide more revenue for education and other governmental services. Recently, the Comanche Nation and Osage Nation announced the development of new gaming facilities. The Choctaw, Cherokee and Chickasaw Nations plan to expand existing facilities. The Citizen Potawatomi's FireLake Grand Casino and Chickasaw's Riverwind opened in 2006 offering increased quality and amenities. These new and renovated facilities will promote tourism in Oklahoma, and the ripple effect will increase tax revenues for state and local governments.
The economic impact of Indian gaming is obvious. It means expenditure of funds in construction, new employment opportunities, better wages, increased revenue for education, improved community services, and infrastructure upgrades at tribal headquarters and surrounding communities. Over the next few years, it is anticipated that more casino-style devices will be offered, providing more revenue for the state.
Unlike businesses that Oklahoma tries to lure with tax incentives and abatements, tribal governments are already here, and plan to stay in Oklahoma and spend their money here.
Tribal casinos don't put profits in the hands of a few rich owners; they provide income to a wide range of Indians and non-Indians who then spend that money for goods, services and entertainment in Oklahoma. The resulting growth in state and tribal revenue supports public services from education to police. You don't have to visit a tribal casino to enjoy the contributions that tribes make toward improving the standard of living for all Oklahomans.
Kickingbird is of counsel to Hobbs, Straus, Dean & Walker, a firm specializing in Indian law, with offices in Washington, D.C., and Oklahoma City.