Osage Nation Wants More 'Vegas-Style' Gaming, Could Mean Millions for Oklahoma

Wednesday, September 14th 2016, 7:30 pm
By: Tess Maune

Casinos have pumped billions of dollars into Oklahoma's economy since the state signed a gaming compact with tribes more than a decade ago.

That compact expires in about three years.

If a deal isn't made by the deadline, slot machines and card games would have to shut down in the state.

With billions of dollars on the line and a lengthy negotiating process ahead, Osage Nation Principle Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear says drawing up plans for a new compact needs to start as soon as possible.     

To understand how far Native America tribes have come in Oklahoma, Standing Bear says it's important to remember where they once were.

"For most you saw sub-standard housing, no educational programs, large amounts of people unemployed, asking the state for general assistance, welfare," he said.

The chief says the addition gaming and casinos -- changed all that.

Now tribes can afford to take care of their own while also shelling hundreds of millions of dollars to the state in the process.

“You can see the success of the casino is its diversity of games and attractiveness to the customer,” said Standing Bear.

Standing Bear would like to see that diversity grow, but under the current gaming compact, some games, like roulette, are not allowed in Oklahoma casinos. He says adding more "Vegas style" gaming could mean billions more for the state.

"That's how we can attract tourists to Oklahoma is to make the gaming environment more diverse and attractive to the out-of-state visitor," he said. “So that is an economic force that is at play here, what keeps it going is a stable compact.” 

The compact between Oklahoma and 33 tribes expires January 1, 2020.

That may seem like plenty of time to come up with a new deal. But Standing Bear there's no time to waste, especially with Governor Fallin's term ending not long before the deadline.

“If we start over with someone right before the deadline, we're done,” Standing Bear said. “It's not going to happen. You're not going to be able to negotiate with a new governor with only a few months left and then get it to Washington D.C. for total approval through a federal bureaucracy.”

All the tribes and the state have to agree on a new compact.

Then the federal government must sign off and Standing Bear said any delays past that expiration date would cost Oklahoma greatly because casinos would have to shut down its biggest money makers.

"Thousands of people would be laid off. Hundreds of thousands of dollars locally, in the very small areas would be lost to local towns," he said. "Millions -- 10s of millions -- you saw the numbers, would be lost from the state economy. It'd be devastating."

The governor's office says there have not be any formal talks with the tribes about re-negotiating.

Standing Bear says he had informal talks with Fallin's general counsel before he resigned from that position earlier this year.