Casino boom puts Sooner state at No. 4 for gaming revenue
BY WAYNE GREENE World Senior Writer
Wednesday, March 09, 2011
3/29/13 at 2:34 PM
This story originally contained an error concerning Alan Meister's analysis about possible future growth of Indian gaming in Oklahoma. The story has been corrected.
Oklahoma, with the 28th-largest population and the 29th-largest economy among the 50 states, accounts for more gambling revenue than all but three.
An explosion of Indian casino gaming in the state has brought transformational opportunities for the tribes but hasn't been without social costs for everyone.
The annual Indian Gaming Industry Report released last week shows that in 2009 Oklahoma tribes combined for $3.119 billion in gambling revenue and another $442 million in nongaming casino revenue - things such as food, drinks and hotels.
With Oklahoma's tribal gaming revenue up nearly 7 percent, the state has passed Louisiana ($2.9 billion) as a gambling location and could some day pass No. 3 New Jersey ($3.7 billion), said the study's author, Alan Meister, an economist with Nathan Associates Inc.
Nevada's nation-leading $10.4 billion in gambling revenue and California's $6.9 billion are still well out of Oklahoma's league, but the state's Indian casinos are already achieving revenue well in advance of the state's perceived place in the market, Meister said.
"When people hear about how big Oklahoma Indian gaming is, they say, 'How can that be?' " Meister said.
Nationwide, Indian gambling revenue was down $236.2 million, or about 1 percent, for the year, but Oklahoma's gambling figures were growing robustly.
The state is home to 111 gambling facilities run by 31 tribes and offering 59,881 gambling machines and 843 gaming tables, the report shows.
State records show that northeastern Oklahoma's largest gaming tribe is the Cherokee Nation.
Principal Chief Chad Smith said the tribe got into gaming to create jobs - and it has done so - but many other benefits have resulted.
The tribe now has 3,500 employees in its gaming operations, a 500 percent increase in the past 10 years. More than 69 percent of the tribe's business employees are American Indians, and nearly 59 percent are Cherokees.
Tribal casinos have brought jobs to rural parts of the tribe's territory that had resisted past economic development efforts.
The tribe now has 100 gaming jobs in Ramona and 800 in West Siloam Springs, he said.
"It's a great shot in the arm for small rural economies," Smith said.
The explosion of gambling revenue also has allowed the tribe to expand spending on social services - 30 percent of the profits go to the tribe's general fund. Remaining profits are invested to create jobs and increase revenue, including many investments in nongambling businesses.
The steady revenue also has meant the tribe's credit and access to capital have improved, allowing it to move faster on efforts such as health facilities recently built in Nowata and Muskogee and under construction in Vinita.
"It's been a means to an end," Smith said.
Smith and Meister don't agree on the state's potential for further gambling growth.
Smith said he thinks the state may be nearing the top of its growth curve, and tribes will become increasingly competitive for the available revenue - which would result in more gaming amenities and entertainment opportunities in the area.
Meister said there's still room for growth in Indian gaming in Oklahoma. In a recession year when many other states saw their gambling numbers decline, Oklahoma saw 7 percent growth, he said.
"There's a good upside for Oklahoma still," he said.
But he agrees that the tribes will have to concentrate on providing amenities to accompany gambling because further growth in the market will largely be dependent on out-of-state gamblers.
Smith said the eventual plateau of the Oklahoma gambling market makes the tribe's emphasis on putting profits into job-creating nongaming investments all the more important.
The Cherokees have invested gaming profits in medical equipment, information technology, consulting companies and other areas in efforts to bring in more jobs.
The casino jackpot hasn't been without social costs, especially an increase in compulsive gambling.
Wiley Harwell, executive director of the Oklahoma Association on Problem and Compulsive Gambling, said the state dedicates $750,000 a year to dealing with all aspects of gambling problems.
Nationally, 1 percent to 2 percent of the population are problem gamblers, but that number goes to 3 percent for people who live within 50 miles of a casino, which now includes almost all Oklahomans, he said.
The state realistically has 100,000 people needing help with pathological gambling, depression or financial problems related to gambling, but the organization can only pay for about 250 of them to get treatment a year, Harwell said.
"We have a long ways to go," he said. "We're always maxed out."
For help with problem gambling, call the Oklahoma Association on Problem and Compulsive Gambling helpline: 1-800-522-4700.
Breakdown of tribes paying gaming compact funds
Oklahoma tribes paid $112.6 million - or a little more than 3.5 percent of total gambling revenue - to local and state governments in 2009.
In August, The Oklahoman reported that the tribes paying the most in gaming compact funds to the state in fiscal year 2010 were:
Chickasaw Nation: $33.3 million
Choctaw Nation: $22.7 million
Cherokee Nation: $12.2 million
Muscogee (Creek): $8,635,061
Quapaw Tribe: $5,706,714
Citizen Potawatomi: $5,499,238
Original Print Headline: Sooner State hits jackpot
Wayne Greene 918-581-8308
An explosion in gambling revenue in Oklahoma has brought the state among the top four in the United States. STEPHEN PINGRY/Tulsa World file
A table-games employee deals blackjack at the River Spirit Casino in south Tulsa. MICHAEL WYKE/Tulsa World file
River Spirit Casino in south Tulsa is operated by the Muscogee (Creek) Nation. Oklahoma is home to 111 gambling facilities run by 31 American Indian tribes. MICHAEL WYKE/Tulsa World file