The sky may be the limit for casinos operated by Oklahoma Indian tribes, judging by the state’s share of gaming revenue.
"It’s still growing,” state Treasurer Scott Meacham said. "We don’t know where it’s going to top out at.”
Oklahoma’s 29 gaming tribes contributed nearly $106 million to the state in fiscal year 2009, according to the Office of State Finance. That figure was about $81 million the previous year.
Most of that money goes to education, but $250,000 is set aside each year for problem gambling assistance through the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services.
The state receives a percentage of each tribe’s revenue from card games and Las Vegas-style gaming machines, under the terms of gaming compacts negotiated with tribal officials.
"It keeps getting better from the state’s perspective,” Meacham said.
He said Oklahoma casinos are attracting a wider variety of people as tribe’s have upgraded casinos over the years.
The Chickasaw Nation paid out the most at $28.7 million.
The Chickasaws have been among the top contributors since Oklahoma tribes were allowed to offer gaming, but tribal officials aren’t complaining.
"From a business perspective, it makes sense to contribute to our state’s education efforts, as well as various economic development projects, because it gives Oklahoma the edge over other states and the end result provides benefits for Oklahoma and Chickasaw citizens,” said Bill Lance, CEO of the tribe’s commerce division.
The tribe’s payout increased by a third over 2008, an increase officials attribute to the expansion of WinStar World Casino near Thackerville.
The half-mile-long casino off Interstate 35 near the Texas border now ranks as one of the largest casinos in the country, officials said.
The Choctaw Nation, which paid the state about $21.5 million in gaming revenue, has been spiffing up its casinos, said Janie Dillard, the tribe’s executive director of gaming.
The Choctaws have opened new casinos this year in McAlester, Stringtown and Grant to replace old ones, she said.