Sixty years ago, if someone in downtown Tulsa wanted to bet on a football game, he — always a he; women weren’t allowed — walked into the Orpheum Cigar Store near Third and Boston and ordered the grilled sausage and the New York Giants plus 5.

It was not legal, but it was convenient. And the grilled sausage was said to be the best in town.

Now bets are being placed on whether sports wagering that is both convenient and legal will soon make an appearance in Tulsa and throughout Oklahoma.

Since a 2018 U.S. Supreme Court decision overturning a federal law restricting sports gambling to four states, legal sports betting has spread to states as diverse as New Jersey, Mississippi and New Mexico.

In Oklahoma, sports betting is one of the chips in the high-stakes game playing out between Gov. Kevin Stitt and the state’s gaming tribes — a fact reflected in the schedule of this week’s Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association convention at the Cox Business Center.

No fewer than four sessions are devoted to sports gaming, more than any other subject. The sessions are sponsored by United Kingdom-based Sports Betting Community, a “news, media and events company” that promotes sports betting.

“Tribes are ready to have that discussion,” Matt Morgan, chairman of the Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association, said when asked Tuesday morning about the chances of sports betting in the state. “The ball is in Gov. Stitt’s court.”

In Morgan’s opinion, and apparently others’, Stitt has no legal leverage to pry a bigger share of gaming revenue from the tribes — unless the state is willing to give the tribes something in return.

That something could be sports betting.

Under current law, Oklahoma would have to authorize tribal sports betting. Technically, that would probably involve legalizing such gambling but restricting it to tribal operations in exchange for a share of revenue.

Morgan said sports betting would allow tribal casinos to offer another form of entertainment, but it is not necessarily as financially lucrative as some think.

“It’s no giant panacea,” he said.

Industry observers say sports betting has some of the narrowest and most unpredictable profit margins.

Most casino games have what’s called a “house advantage” — rules that tilt the odds slightly in the casino’s advantage. With the laws of probability on its side, the casino knows with a fair degree of certainty what its profit margin — or “win” — will be on those games.

Sports betting has far more variables, from the decisions that go into setting initial odds to the vagaries of a player’s gimpy knee. It’s also dependent on being able to balance bets on a game’s outcome — who wins, who loses, who covers the point spread, who doesn’t — for each team so that the book isn’t overexposed for one result.

Then there are the myriad proposition bets — wagers on everything from who wins the coin flip at a football game to whether the next pitch is a ball or a strike.

Theoretically, sports books should break even on bets and make their money on “vig” or “vigorish” — the fee they collect on each bet.

Among other things, tribes are trying to figure out whether they would operate the sports books themselves or contract with experienced casinos or management companies.

Craig Duckham and Jack Smith of London-based Sporting Solutions explained at Tuesday’s convention the evolution of legal sports betting in the UK and walked an audience of about 60 through some of the basic questions when considering a sports book.

“The key is to understand all of the options available,” said Duckham. “In the U.K., everybody sees the U.S. as a cash cow, and some may not necessarily be in it for the long haul.”

Sue Schneider, SBC Americas vice president for growth and strategy, said technology is another consideration.

While tribal casinos have become quite sophisticated in that area as it relates to the games they offer, sports betting is another animal altogether. In-game betting and mobile betting are two of the fastest-growing forms of sports gaming.

Historically, betting stopped when games began. Now it only escalates. Odds change as scores do while games are in progress, and bets can be placed on the outcome of every play in every game.

“I think up to 17 states have authorized sports gaming,” Schneider said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if, by the end of the next legislative sessions, it’s up to 25.”

Sports betting in Oklahoma would not have to be restricted to tribal casinos. It could be open to anyone, it could be operated by the state, or a form of it could be run through the state lottery.

Morgan doesn’t think that’s likely.

“There are penalties in the compact,” he said. “I would advise (the state) to look at those very carefully.”

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Randy Krehbiel


Twitter: @rkrehbiel

Randy has been with the Tulsa World since 1979. He is a native of Hinton, Okla., and graduate of Oklahoma State University. Krehbiel primarily covers government and politics. Phone: 918-581-8365

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