Okla. Senate approves tribal gaming bill
Thursday, February 19, 2004

A bill aimed at expanding Indian gaming while saving the failing racetrack industry gained support in the Oklahoma Legislature on Wednesday amid a big push by tribal leaders and Gov. Brad Henry (D).

The Choctaw Nation and the Chickasaw Nation brought dozens of employees to the State Capitol to show tribal support for the measure. Meanwhile, Henry roamed the halls with country music singer Toby Keith to tout the benefits for the horse tracks.

The heavy lobbying was all for SB553, which would legalize certain electronic casino machines for tribal facilities and three racetracks. Leaders of large tribes, like the Choctaw and Chickasaw, call the measure a "win-win" for the two industries.

The push paid off for the State-Tribal Gaming Act. After several hours of debate, the State Senate passed by the bill a 30-18 vote.

"I know some people worked themselves up into 'This is a hard vote,'" Senate President Pro Tempore Cal Hobson, a Democrat, told reporters after passage. "This is a dead easy vote."

The bill now goes to the House, where a similar proposal failed last year. But Senate leaders said they were optimistic of success there.

If approved, SB553 would authorize the state to enter into a gaming compact with tribes. The compact would then be submitted to the Department of Interior for approval under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA).

The compact legalizes certain electronic casino machines to ensure that tribes will be able to offer them without fear of fines and other federal enforcement. In the past couple of years, the National Indian Gaming Commission, a DOI agency charged with regulating the $14 billion tribal casino industry, has targeted Oklahoma tribes for running legally-questionable games.

In exchange, the tribes would be required to share a portion of their revenues from the machines with the state. State officials estimate they will see $70 million, to be used mainly for education.

The tribes are also giving up their exclusivity to offer the machines because three tracks -- Remington Park in Oklahoma City, Blue Ribbon Downs in Sallisaw and Will Rogers Downs in Claremore -- would be able to offer them. The Choctaw Nation recently purchased Blue Ribbon Downs.

The bill ties the machines to tobacco compacts that some tribes, including the Chickasaw and Choctaw nations, have signed with Henry. If tribes fail to abide by the tobacco agreement, the state can revoke the gaming compact, according to language in SB553.

The tobacco compacts also call for tribes to share revenues should the state's tobacco tax increase. Yesterday, a House committee voted 5-4 along party lines to boost the tax by 23 cents. Republicans fought the measure.

A House committee is continuing to work on SB553. Some minor changes are being made to the version that was introduced last week. A copy of that version can be found at Tracking of the bill can be done at

Relevant Links:
Oklahoma Gov. Brad Henry -
National Indian Gaming Commission -

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