CATOOSA — Visitors to the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tulsa are bombarded by flickering lights, ringing bells and thousands of numbers spinning on video slot machines.
They are the sights and sounds of success.
Since Oklahoma voters passed the Tribal-Gaming Compact in 2004, allowing for Las Vegas-style gaming, the 34 state tribes with a gaming compact have paid the state more than $895 million in “exclusivity fees.”
On Monday at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tulsa, officials celebrated the 10-year anniversary of the approval of State Question 712, the referendum that altered the economic landscape of Oklahoma.
“I can only speak for the Cherokees, but it’s no different around the state,” Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John Baker said before about 130 people at a Hard Rock event marking the occasion.
“The tribes have become the economic engines of the state that are moving things forward. Had this not passed, the state of Oklahoma I’m not sure would have come out of the recession.”
The Cherokees alone make more than an annual $1.3 billion financial impact to the state and support 14,203 jobs in their 14-county area.
Russell Evans is executive director of the Steven C. Agee Economic Research and Policy Institute of Oklahoma City University.
“That growth rate on the business side then allows the Cherokee Nation not only to expand government and social programs to enhance productivity for their citizens here, but it also allows them to put in place economic impacts,” Evans said.
The gaming compact has exceeded the initial projections of $71 million in annual remittance to the state. According to the agreement, the Cherokee, Muscogee (Creek) and Osage Nations also must pay a combined $2 million a year to Fair Meadows Racetrack in exchange for its not installing Class III electronic gaming.
“We’ve reversed the flow of dollars,” Baker said. “If I went to Tunica, Mississippi, or Las Vegas, I would always see people I knew. Now, instead of them taking our dollars to Nevada or to Mississippi, those dollars are staying here and we’re bringing dollars in from Kansas and Arkansas and Missouri and Texas.
“Because we’re the tribes and our corporate headquarters are in Oklahoma, it’s not like another gaming company coming in where the profits go to stockholders all over the world or the owners who live someplace else. Those dollars stay right here and multiply and multiply.”
Brad Henry was governor when the question was put to a vote.
“It was one of the few times I’ve seen virtually every tribe in the state work together,” he said. “It was beautiful.”
More than 849,000 Oklahomans, nearly 60 percent of those who voted, supported SQ 712.
“The architects of State Question 712 certainly were visionary and had a long-term vision,” Henry said. “But I don’t think anybody expected the kind of incredible explosion of growth that has been the result of State Question 712.
“That question itself has created tens of thousands of new jobs, has increased economic activity in our state by billions of dollars, has created destinations all across our state where people come from outside our state to stay, play and spend money.”