Gov. Kevin Stitt wants to legalize sports betting this year, but it has yet to win full support from Senate Pro Tem Greg Treat.
Treat, R-Edmond, who has the power to decide what bills will get heard in the Senate, said he has “zero desire” to support a bill to solely legalize sports betting this session.
“Like everything, I want to approach it in a methodical manner, but my position has not changed: I’m not interested in moving that by itself,” Treat said in a recent interview.
Tribes hold exclusive gaming rights in Oklahoma through gaming compacts with the state. Treat emphasized that he is not opposed to legalizing sports betting, but he wants to talk with stakeholders to see if the state would first have to negotiate new compacts with the tribes or if sports betting would be added to the existing agreements.
“I think it needs to be handled in a way that’s respectful of our tribal nations, it needs to be above board, and something that is a win-win for the state of Oklahoma and our 39 tribes,” Treat said.
Stitt began advocating to legalize sports betting after Rep. Ken Luttrell, R-Ponca City, filed House Bill 1027 in December. The bill would legalize both mobile and in person sports betting in Oklahoma. Sports betting is currently legal in 36 other states.
Luttrell, who filed a similar bill last session that stalled out, believes this year it will pass.
“There’s a lot more public awareness and interest this year,” Luttrell said. “And with Governor Stitt going into his second term, I think he’s more receptive to working with the tribes and moving the state forward in partnership with the tribes. All the responses have been really positive to it this year.”
Luttrell’s bill would add in-person and mobile sports betting to the existing gaming compacts. The state would receive a percentage of the gaming revenue. The tribes and the state would have to negotiate how much of a cut of betting revenue the state would receive — potentially hundreds of millions of dollars a year. Luttrell has previously cited an Oxford Economics Group study commissioned by a gaming industry group that found sports betting could generate about $240 million a year in revenue for Oklahoma.
Luttrell said support for his bill is “looking real positive in the House” but the Senate is “always kind of a wild card.” But he said he has had “some good reception” in the Senate this year.
On Friday, Stitt said on the local sports radio station 107.7 The Franchise that he wants legalized sports betting this legislative session.
Stitt, who has had a rocky relationship with the tribes in the past, said in the radio interview he believes the tribes would be willing to negotiate with the state on sports betting, but athletic organizations should also be involved in discussions.
During Stitt’s first three years in office, he fought the tribes over their long-established gaming compacts with the state. The tribes argued the compacts renewed automatically but Stitt claimed the deals had to be renegotiated. Stitt lost multiple court challenges over the deals and the compacts were ultimately allowed to renew.
Matt Morgan, chairman of the Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association, said every tribe he has spoken with is interested in legalizing sports betting.
But he stressed that renegotiating the compacts is “probably out of the question” for most tribes.
Tribes took in more than $3.1 billion in gaming revenue for the 2022 fiscal year from electronic and table games, according to state data, but Oklahoma only saw about a $191 million cut of that in exclusivity fees. Renegotiating the compacts could mean a less lucrative deal for the tribes.
“I don’t think tribes have an appetite to go back in and renegotiate the entirety of what that compact looks like,” Morgan said. “Governor Stitt tried that before and he was met with a resounding no on that request. We think we have a great industry, a really good foundational document that’s worked well for everyone over the last 18 years and there’s a mechanism for enhancing that where everyone can win as we add additional forms of gaming.”
In a statement, Speaker of the Oklahoma state House Charles McCall, R-Atoka, said that any sports betting legislation would have to work in accordance with current gaming laws in the state and that conversations must be had with all the stakeholders “to come to a consensus on how to address the issue.”
“This is a very complex issue that we are open to exploring during the upcoming session,” McCall said.