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Smoke-free casino to open as Oklahoma Indian gaming revenue continues rise

The Kaw Nation is planning to open a totally smoke-free casino this spring at its tribal headquarters in Kaw City as the state's Indian gaming industry continues to expand. Oklahoma Indian gaming produced nearly $3.48 billion in revenues in 2011 — a 7.7 percent increase over the previous year.
by Randy Ellis Published: February 27, 2013

/articleid/3759510/1/pictures/1964702">Photo - File photo - Patrons play gaming machines at Riverwind Casino in Norman, OK. Wed. June, 3, 2009. Photo by Jaconna Aguirre
File photo - Patrons play gaming machines at Riverwind Casino in Norman, OK. Wed. June, 3, 2009. Photo by Jaconna Aguirre

Casino City's report provided an explanation for the decrease, noting that Oklahoma tribes decreased the number of table games in their casinos in 2011 and decreased the percentage of Class III games, while increasing the percentage of Class II games.

Oklahoma Indian tribes only pay fees to the state for the operation of Class III games — Las Vegas-style electronic games — and nonhouse-banked table games, like poker.

Tribes don't have to pay the state to operate Class I games, which include social games for nominal prizes. Nor do they have to pay to operate Class II games, which include bingo and similar games.

Some of the Class II games are played on electronic devices and are similar, in some respects, to Class III electronic games.

The number of table games in Oklahoma Indian casinos dropped from 813 in 2010 to 753 in 2011, a decrease of 7.4 percent.

The report noted that Oklahoma tribes steadily increased their percentages of Class III games from 2005 through 2008, while the National Indian Gaming Commission introduced stricter limitations on Class II games that would have made them less similar to Las Vegas-style games.

The percentage of Class III games rose from 10 percent in 2005 to 66 percent in 2008.

However, the Commission withdrew the stricter limitations of Class II games in 2008, and the percentage of Class III games has steadily declined since then, dropping to 60 percent in 2011.

Tribes did pay more to the state in 2012, however. Compact fees to the state rose to nearly $127.8 million that year, an increase of 5 percent. A state gaming oversight official attributed the increase to new casinos opening with more total games, rather than a shift to a higher percentage of Class III games.

Casinos support jobs

At the end of 2011, Oklahoma had 115 Indian gaming facilities that were being operated by 33 tribes. Those facilities housed 63,536 gaming machines and 753 table games.

Nationally, 242 American Indian tribes operated more than 341,000 gaming machines and 7,700 table games. The games were in 460 facilities located in 28 states in 2011, the report states.

Indian casinos supported about 339,000 jobs and $12.3 billion in wages, and were responsible for about $1.4 billion in payments to nontribal governments.

by Randy Ellis
Investigative Reporter
For the past 30 years, staff writer Randy Ellis has exposed public corruption and government mismanagement in news articles. Ellis has investigated problems in Oklahoma's higher education institutions and wrote stories that ultimately led to two...
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