A sharp decline since March
Tribal casino owners in the state of Oklahoma have blamed the coronavirus pandemic for a decrease of almost $30m in exclusivity fee payments made to the state.
The comments were made by the Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association after the state’s Office of Management and Enterprise Services released payment information for the fiscal year ending June 30. The data showed fee payments totaling $123m for the period, a significant drop from the $150m accumulated in 2019.
fee revenue was down 34% year-on-year
Until February, the state’s tribal casinos were averaging around $12.5m in exclusivity fees, but the figure plummeted to $21,000 in March. Payments rose again to $2.7m in May as gambling establishments started to reopen, hitting $11.7m the following month. For the six months until June 2020, fee revenue was down 34% year-on-year.
In a statement, OIGA executive director Sheila Morago attributed the fee discrepancy to the temporary shutdown of gaming facilities in Oklahoma starting March 23. Without these closures, Morago said the fees for the fiscal year were projected to reach “between $155-$165m”.
Oklahoma’s exclusivity fees
As per the terms of Oklahoma’s tribal gaming compacts, the state’s casino-owning tribes must pay a monthly fee to the government for the exclusive right to operate in the region. These exclusivity fees range from 4% on the first $10m of annual adjusted gross revenues on electronic games to 10% of monthly net win on table games.
public schools receive 88% of the fees
As part of these agreements, $250,000 of the annual fund is provided to the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services for gambling and education treatment. Public schools receive 88% of the fees, while the state’s general revenue fund receives the rest.
Tribal compact concerns
Tensions have been high between Oklahoma’s tribal casinos and state authorities in recent months. Earlier in August, four Oklahoma tribes sued the state over gaming compacts made with two other tribes. The plaintiffs asked the federal court to revoke the contracts signed by Governor Kevin Stitt in April.
The agreements would have permitted the two tribes to offer sports betting and house-banked card games in the state. The Oklahoma Supreme Court already invalidated the compacts in July, ruling that Gov. Stitt had overstepped his authority in signing them into law.
Similarly, this year a number of tribes took action against Gov. Stitt over the renewal of gaming compacts. They believed their 15-year agreements would automatically renew on January 1, 2020, which Gov. Stitt argued was not the case.
In July, a federal judge ruled in favor of the casino tribes, saying the compacts did renew for another 15 years.