March 12, 2021 Tribal, Land-Based

NO TURNING BACK

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In his first interview with Gaming America this year, Matthew Morgan, chairman of the Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association, gets us up to speed on progress made and optimism building for the future, especially with sights set on the Conference and Trade Show this summer.

To start off, the most exciting Tribal gaming news from Oklahoma, right here in the middle of Indian Country, is that we are gearing up for our 2021 Conference and

Trade Show. We’ll be in Oklahoma City 26-28 July at the beautiful new Oklahoma City Convention Center and Omni Hotel. The two facilities are adjacent to one another, which will allow us to hold all of our events related to the event in a safer, contained space. Our attendees won’t have to use public transportation to get from one part of the event to another, it will all be right there.

As the COVID-19 pandemic spread last year, OIGA, like so many other organizations, made the wise decision to cancel our 2020 Conference and Trade Show. We made that decision before the mandatory shut-down because it was important to us to act as quickly as possible, in the best interest of our vendors and attendees. We immediately offered to refund fees to those who had planned to attend so that they could quickly redirect them if need be, or to carry those fees forward for those who preferred. It was a tough decision, but one we never doubted. We are grateful to have such a difficult year behind us and we mourn for all of those we have lost to this virus.

As we begin to move forward, we do so from a position of strength. Our Conference and Trade Show is like a big, boisterous, hardworking family, and it’s time for a reunion. Otherwise known as ‘the biggest little show in Indian Gaming,’ our events will draw nearly 3,000 vendors, visitors and guest speakers to downtown Oklahoma City to celebrate and advance our industry. Oklahoma is home to 38 federally recognized Tribal Nations and 35 of those have valid gaming compacts. Tribal Gaming is an important economic driver in our state. There’s truly no better location for a Tribal Gaming conference or trade show than Oklahoma. 

Our Conference host hotel, the new Omni Oklahoma City, is directly across from the 30-acre Scissortail Park. Oklahoma City, with its central location, is also within driving distance for those who plan to attend, and we’ve kept registration fees affordable. After cancelling last year’s events, it’s going to be especially meaningful to see our friends and colleagues from across the country and around the world.

In addition to the Conference and Trade Show itself, a golf tournament benefiting the John Marley Scholarship Foundation, welcome reception and poker tournament will be held on Monday, 26 July; Tuesday morning will be dedicated to conference sessions. The Trade Show floor will open early on Tuesday for maximum networking, and instead of the formal luncheon, OIGA’s Annual Awards will be presented on the Trade Show floor stage, with a more casual meal. Wednesday will be filled with more sessions and fun at the Trade Show.

If you have never attended the OIGA Trade Show, you are in for a treat. It is a lively, informative, high-energy assembly of some of the biggest names in the gaming and hospitality industries.

Q & A

I recently sat down for a far-reaching interview with Gaming America. Subject matter ranged from politics to the effects of the pandemic on the entertainment
and hospitality industries.

What do you think the influence of a Biden administration will be on tribal gaming, considering Deb Haaland as his pick for Secretary of the Interior, and his recognition that the pandemic has hit Native Americans particularly hard because of their dependence on work in gaming, hospitality and tourism?

OIGA member tribes voiced support for the appointment of Representative Haaland and will be happy to work with her appointments to the National Indian Gaming Commission, as those positions become available. We are hopeful that the increased urgency of the Biden administration regarding the vaccine rollout and COVID-19 response will lead to our industry and gaming facilities returning to doing business in a more normal manner, and at more normal occupancy levels as more employees and guests are vaccinated.

Can you detail the outcome of the recent court ruling that determined Governor Stitt negotiated inconsistent terms to those in an approved model gaming compact?

The Supreme Court of the State of Oklahoma upheld what we have always maintained: Governor Kevin Stitt did not have the legal authority to bind the state into agreements or compacts, which deviate from the model gaming compact.

How does this ruling differ to the renewal rulings made last summer?

This ruling is consistent with previous rulings. The previous ruling addressed different compacts with other Tribal Nations, but the rulings are consistent: Governor Stitt exceeded his authority in entering into those compacts.

How is OIGA able to work with Governor Stitt and legislative committees, and in what way does this latest outcome further advance gambling for Oklahomans?

OIGA does not directly work with Governor Stitt or the legislature. OIGA established in 1986 and is a non-profit organization of Indian Nations with other non-voting associate members representing organizations, tribes and businesses engaged in tribal gaming enterprises from around Oklahoma. The common commitment and purpose of OIGA is to advance the welfare of Indian peoples economically, socially and politically. We are an advocate and resource for the Indian Nations in Oklahoma who do work directly with Governor Stitt and the legislature. 

Can you describe how land-based casinos have fared recently as the trend of new cases of COVID-19 across the state is decreasing? Are properties able to operate more effectively as vaccines continue to roll out?

Thank goodness, all casinos have been able to reopen, although they continue to operate at diminished capacity. Tribal Nations are also doing their share in the vaccine rollout, efficiently vaccinating thousands of Oklahomans. As vaccination rates continue to increase, we know that gaming will soon return to increased capacity, live entertainment and additional dining offerings.

Despite such unpredictability this year, how would you gauge the progression of Tribal gaming in the US, and Oklahoma specifically?

Just like every other service or entertainment industry that relies on safely engaging the public, our progress has been slow and measured. We are grateful for any progress but continue to approach things in the safest, most stepwise manner, always putting the safety of people first.

How much does Oklahoma depend on out-of-state tourism for casino revenue compared to intrastate or international?

Oklahoma is more of a regional and local market and not a hub for international tourism. However, gaming does draw upwards of 18.7 million visits from other states and 84% of this out-of-state tourism occurs at rural gaming facilities.

Matthew Morgan on the latest economic impact numbers in Oklahoma
Tribal Gaming in Oklahoma continues to be a potent economic driver, employing thousands of citizens and bringing tourism to our state. Our third Economic Impact Report was completed in August and utilizes the most recent data available, from 2018.

In Oklahoma, Tribal Gaming created 28,833 jobs in 2018. Of those, 75% were full-time and 6,199 were part-time. Most of those jobs are held by people who live in rural communities. Of those people employed, 40.7% were tribal citizens and 59.3% were not.

Wages and benefits paid were more than $1.4bn, with annual payroll taxes (federal and state withholding, Social Security and Medicare) topping $338m.

Annual exclusivity fees paid to the State of Oklahoma were $138,598,418 in 2018 and $148,221,620 in 2019. 

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