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Oklahoma Tribes Blame COVID-19 for Gaming Fees Drop

Tribal casinos in Oklahoma paid $123 million in fees to the state during the fiscal year ended June 30th, 2020. 

The above figure represented a sizable drop compared to the previous year, when operators paid almost $150 million between them. 

COVID-19 and the subsequent forced shutdown of casinos across the state is being blamed for this drop. 

Casinos began to reopen in May, having originally closed in March, and their fees began to go back up thereafter. 

Cost a likely record by the coronavirus 

According to data from the Office of Management and Enterprise Services (OMES), monthly payments from Oklahoman tribal casinos to the state plummeted when COVID-19 first hit. Compared to $12.2 million in February 2020, fees paid to the state fell below $21,000 in the following month. 

Prior to the end of March, there were still four months left of the fiscal year. Thus, it’s very likely that last year’s figure would have been beaten. And it could have been convincing, too. 

However, sometimes life just doesn’t work out how you would like it to. As was reported by the Associated Press, Sheila Morago – Executive Director of the Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association (OIGA) – tribal casinos had been closing in on a fiscal year payment record prior to the pandemic. 

She had the following to say on the matter. 

“At the beginning of March 2020, tribal gaming in Oklahoma was experiencing a lucrative year, with exclusivity fees for fiscal year 2019-20 projected to top out between $155 – $165 million, which would have been a record.

“By mid-March, things had drastically changed. COVID-19 made its way to Oklahoma, and Tribal Nations took swift action, temporarily closing all gaming facilities by March 23.”

Recent events would back up the idea that COVID-19 closures affected payments to the state 

After a forced slumber, tribal casinos in Oklahoma began to reopen in May. Fees in that month climbed back up to $2.7 million. And in June, this again rose to $11.7 million – which wasn’t far off pre-pandemic levels. 

OIGA Chairman Matthew Morgan also spoke about the impact of coronavirus on the state’s gaming industry. His thoughts were as follows. 

“A lot of tribes, the majority of their businesses are their gaming facilities, so you know they took a big hit during the coronavirus from the perspective of revenue coming in.

“We’ve done this over the last 15 years totaling more than $1.6 billion into the state for education, so very important, you know, goes to a very important cause.

“To their credit, we saw very little unemployment happen across tribal governments during this time.” 

Minimizing the losses was important for the state 

Even though tribal casinos were unable to contribute anywhere near as much during the lockdown as they were prior to and after it, both parties were able to prepare and minimize the impact. That’s according to Oklahoma State Representative Dustin Roberts. He has had the below to say. 

“We’ve made up the difference there with the CARES act money that came down from the feds, and some of the money that we have kind of set off to the side.

“The health and safety of our kids will be taken care of even with the budget shortfalls that we’ve had. That’s what those savings accounts are for – bad times like these that we’re in.”

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