Oklahoma (really) is OK with casinos

April 29, 2008 7:00 PM
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Staff & Wire Reports | According to a report published in February by Native Nations, a consulting firm specializing in tribal casino management and financing, revenue from casino operations in Oklahoma has nearly doubled to $2 billion in the last two years.

Oklahoma is ranked first in the nation in tribal casinos with close to 100 tribal gambling locations, many of which are casinos, with a few convenience stores and travel plazas added to the mix.

Overall, there are 415 tribal casinos in the U.S., and Oklahoma makes up one-fourth of the market, said Tim Grogan, Seneca Cayuga Tribe chief financial officer.

The state is also ranked second in gaming machines with approximately 57,000 machines among tribal gaming states; and in 2006, Oklahoma ranked fourth in revenue with $1.97 billion, Grogan said, citing figures from the Casino City Press "Indian Gaming Industry Report".

"Oklahoma is a relatively sparsely populated state, so this rapid growth has created the highest market penetration rate of any of the leading tribal gaming states," Grogan said.

Class II gaming offers electronic video gaming machines, which look like slot machines but by law must be based on a bingo game.

Class III gaming machines are Las Vegas-style slot machines and are found in most Oklahoma casinos.

In Oklahoma, before a tribe engages in Class III gaming, the tribe must negotiate a compact with the state. That compact then must be approved by the U.S. Interior secretary.

In 2004, Oklahoma voters approved a state question allowing all federally recognized Indian tribes to operate Class III machines in exchange for the payment of monthly exclusivity fees.

Oklahoma tribes pay the state 4 to 6 percent of the revenue from Class III machines. In the first seven months of this fiscal year, that generated $37.2 million for the state.

Grogan said in 2006, Oklahoma had a slot machine for every 65 adults in the state, more than five times the ratio for California, the next-leading tribal gaming state.

"That number has dramatically changed in the last two years," Grogan said. "It’s closer to a slot machine for every 50 adults."

Out of Oklahoma’s 77 counties, Ottawa County leads the state with 10 casinos and travel plazas, with another casino in the planning stage and 40 casinos within a 100-mile radius of Grand Lake.

Who leads the pack?

The largest casino in Oklahoma is Riverwind Casino, operated by the Chickasaw Nation south of Norman.

The casino includes 2,317 electronic gaming machines, more than 70 blackjack and poker tables and a 77-seat off-track betting lounge. There is also a 1,500-seat showplace theater for concerts, a 300-seat VIP mezzanine, restaurants, food court and an event center.

WinStar Casino in Thackerville, also operated by the Chickasaw Nation, has 2,160 slot machines and 82 table and poker tables.

Although many Oklahoma casinos offer machines and card games similar to those found in Las Vegas, craps and roulette wheels are not permitted.

Other games found in casinos are blackjack, three-card poker, Texas hold’em, pai gow poker, let it ride, bingo and off-track betting.

Most of the machines use printed receipts for payouts.

Oklahoma also is home to three pari-mutuel horse racing tracks with casinos, sometimes called racinos: The Cherokee Casino-Will Rogers Downs in Claremore, Remington Park in Oklahoma City and Blue Ribbon Downs in Sallisaw.

Many casinos have restaurants on site, concerts and are open 24 hours a day. The minimum gambling age ranges from 18 to 21.