With Governor Stitt and Oklahoma’s tribes at loggerheads over the gaming compact, it’s a good time to reconsider the tribes’ gambling monopoly altogether. While there is only one Las Vegas, Oklahoma is a casino state. Regardless of the compact dispute’s outcome, Oklahoma will remain a casino state. The question is, why should the tribes be exclusive operators of casinos?
Casino gambling exclusively allowed of tribes in other states arose from a legitimate need for impoverished reservations to generate some cash flow. In Arizona, where I lived for several years, I found reservations to be sad, undeveloped, poverty-stricken places with a few poorly-exploited natural attractions. But Oklahoma does not have reservations. Consequently, tribal members have integrated into the prevailing culture, apparently becoming just as prosperous as any other group of people.
Congress still recognizes Oklahoma’s reservation-less tribes, and this grants the tribes some privileges others of us do not enjoy. Given history, this might well be justified, but it is not apparent that there was ever a justification for a grant of a monopoly over an industry other than that it happened elsewhere.
Casinos in this state are not restricted to specific territories, although the laws and regulations on permissible locations can be restrictive, confusing, and arbitrary. Thus, casinos in Oklahoma are fairly ubiquitous. When headed north out of Texas on I-35 or I-44, it can be quite the adventure dodging vehicles with Texas plates slowing for casino exits. After the casinos, traffic clears.
That’s the reason casino gambling will not end in Oklahoma, despite the current dispute. Casinos bring too much money into the state, even with tribes the primary beneficiaries of surrounding states’ inhabitants’ gambling habits.
If casino gambling is not going away and it’s already all over the place, why should the tribal monopoly continue? A more competitive casino gambling industry will bring even more money into the state. Competitive industries are generally larger and richer than monopolized ones. The head-to-head competition that made Las Vegas great is relatively muted in Oklahoma by its limitation to tribes.
This is not just a practical issue but a moral one. As Howard Hughes pointed out to a U.S. Senator in the movie, The Aviator, granting monopolies is un-American. For those who have a moral problem with gambling, keep in mind that while casino gambling exploits a vice, so does selling liquor in a bar and selling state-sponsored lottery tickets out of a convenience store. If people want to keep casinos out of their communities, the legal means to do so can be more effective against a Steve Wynn than against tribes.
Let’s end the tribal monopoly over casino gambling in Oklahoma and open the industry to anyone willing to compete.
Byron Schlomach is 1889 Institute Director and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.