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Oklahoma’s Stalled Sports Betting Legislation: A Deep Dive

Explore why Oklahoma's efforts to legalize sports betting stalled in 2024, as tribal-state relations and political complexities overshadow legislative progress. Learn about the key players, historical context, and future prospects for sports betting in the state.
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Oklahoma Flag

Branimir Ivanov | Senior News Contributor

Updated: Jun 13, 2024

Oklahoma's Struggle

Despite growing interest in legalizing sports betting, Oklahoma's legislative efforts to do so stalled in 2024. The interplay between the state’s Indian tribes, legislators, and Governor Kevin Stitt has created a complex landscape that requires navigating long-standing tribal compacts and contentious state politics.


Legislative Inertia and Tribal-State Relations

As 2024 began, the path seemed clear: HB1027, a bill to legalize sports betting in Oklahoma, had already passed the House and was poised for Senate consideration. Sponsored by Rep. Ken Luttrell and Sen. Bill Coleman, the bill aimed to establish a legal framework for sports betting in the state. Yet, it languished in the Senate Rules Committee, failing to advance before the legislative session concluded on May 31.

Matthew Morgan, Chairman of the Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association (OIGA), points to broader tribal-state relations as a major obstacle. “Nothing really went on with sports betting this session,” Morgan told PlayUSA. “I think part of that was other tribal-state relations issues took up a lot of oxygen in the room. Legislative leadership never showed any desire to take up sports betting, probably because they knew it would be a lot of work since we didn’t have an agreement in place.”

Governor Stitt's approach to sports betting has been controversial. His proposal suggested granting Oklahoma tribes exclusivity over retail sports betting while allowing commercial operators to enter the online market untethered. This plan, encapsulated in Sen. Casey Murdock's SB1434, failed to gain traction. Stitt’s contentious relationship with the tribes, who operate under a joint compact established in 2004, has only complicated negotiations. In 2019, Stitt's attempt to renegotiate these compacts led to multiple lawsuits and a ruling that he couldn't unilaterally modify agreements without legislative approval .


Historical Context and Legal Complexities

Oklahoma tribes have been navigating the complexities of state gaming laws for decades. In 2004, a voter-approved compact allowed Class III gaming, laying the groundwork for the current landscape. When Stitt assumed office in 2019, he argued that the compact had expired, leading to legal battles that ultimately reinforced the tribes' stance: the compact automatically renewed for another 15 years.

Morgan expressed the ongoing difficulties in tribal-state relations under Stitt’s administration: “I can’t tell you that our relationship with this governor six years in is any better than it was year one.” This strained relationship impacts all negotiations, including those related to sports betting .

The legal landscape has also been influenced by federal decisions. The 2020 US Supreme Court ruling that returned three million acres to the Muscogee Creek Nation expanded tribal jurisdiction, adding layers of complexity to negotiations over gaming and other tribal issues. These developments have had significant ramifications on state income tax, tobacco compacts, and vehicle licensing, all contributing to the tension between the tribes and the state .

The Roadblocks of Online Sports Betting

While there is consensus among Oklahoma tribes on the potential benefits of retail sports betting, online sports betting presents a more complex issue. Oklahoma's tribes are not unified in their approach to online gaming, reflecting broader challenges seen in states like California. “It gets more complicated when you talk about mobile instead of just on-premise,” Morgan noted. With 38 federally recognized tribes in Oklahoma, finding common ground on online sports betting has proven difficult .

Even as some tribes begin preparations for future sportsbooks by renovating spaces, the path forward remains unclear. Morgan hopes that pending decisions, such as the US Supreme Court's forthcoming ruling on the Seminole Tribe’s online sports betting case under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA), might offer insights. “The West Flagler decision I think will be very impactful for our members,” he said .

The 2024 legislative session has ended without significant progress on sports betting, but the political landscape is poised for change. Upcoming elections in November will bring new leadership to the Oklahoma House and Senate, potentially reshaping legislative priorities. “We’ll have elections at the state and federal level, so we’ll see who is there and what are the priorities of the new legislative group,” Morgan commented .


“I think part of that was other tribal-state relations issues took up a lot of oxygen in the room. Legislative leadership never showed any desire to take up sports betting, probably because they knew it would be a lot of work since we didn’t have an agreement in place.”


With Governor Stitt's term extending for another two years, the tribes may consider waiting for a new governor who might be more amenable to their interests before pursuing further negotiations. As Morgan emphasized, the tribes are not in a rush. Reflecting on the protracted journey to secure the current gaming compact, he stated, “If they want to talk sports betting, we’re open to it but we’re not in a hurry because we understand the political dynamics in the state we live in” .

In summary, while Oklahoma has the potential to become a hub for legal sports betting, the path forward is fraught with legal, political, and relational challenges. Resolving these issues will require careful negotiation, a willingness to compromise, and potentially, a shift in state leadership.

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