Bottom Fell out of Anticipated Lucrative Year for Indian Gaming as COVID-19 Forced Casino Closures

Aug 24, 2020

Credit Matt Trotter / KWGS

Tribal gaming fees paid to the state cratered at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in Oklahoma.

The Office of Management and Enterprise Services reported monthly exclusivity fee payments under gaming compacts fell from $12.3 million in February to $6.6 million in March and bottomed out at less than $21,000 in April with casinos closed.

Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association Chairman Matthew Morgan said while the state missed out on as much as $42 million in payments because of the drop, tribes lost out on hundreds of millions more with a main industry shut down.

"But if you look across tribes in general at the way that the tribes were able to continue to support their employees, continuing to keep them on the payroll and keep them employed through this time until such a time as they could open back up, I think shows real resolve from tribal leadership," Morgan said.

Exclusivity fee payments to the state did recover to $11.7 million in June as casinos broadly reopened.

"I think you’re seeing the confidence of our customers coming back in and feeling comfortable with what the tribes are doing there, and that’s reflected in that June number," Morgan said.

Tribes ended up paying the state $122.9 million in exclusivity fees during the fiscal year ended June 30. Before the pandemic, fees were projected to reach $155 million to $165 million.