Oklahoma’s largest gaming operator, the Chickasaw Nation, has been approved for mobile gaming. The federal National Indian Gaming Association (NIGC) announced Wednesday it had greenlit class II online gaming for the tribe, but only for bettors within the boundaries of its reservation.
The Chickasaw Nation owns the WinStar World Casino near the Oklahoma-Texas state line, which is one of the biggest casinos in America. (Image: WinStar World)
That’s not as restrictive as it sounds. Chickasaw lands comprise some 1,230 square miles in Oklahoma. And should all the state’s tribal operators receive similar approvals, mobile gaming would become pervasive. Indian country currently makes up 43 percent of the state and is home to more than a million residents.
And, thanks to a July 2022 Supreme Court ruling, Oklahoma City itself is now considered Native American territory under the terms of an 1833 treaty between the US government and the Muscogee Nation.
Chickasaw Nation Secretary of Commerce Dan Boren declined to discuss the tribe’s roadmap to a mobile launch when contacted by The Oklahoman this week.
“We look forward to sharing more operational details as this process unfolds,” he said in a brief emailed statement.
Class II Mobile Gaming?
The major challenge the tribes face with mobile is that they are only permitted to offer class II gaming, which is defined as non-banked “bingo-style” games that use pool betting.
Generally speaking, tribes are permitted to offer class II gaming on their reservations without the blessing of the state under the federal Indian Gaming Regulation Act (IGRA).
The class II gaming industry has innovated to create games with the look and feel of slot machines and table games, but which still adhere to the “bingo-style” definition. But there are currently few online casino software providers that offer class II solutions.
That is likely to change as market demand grows in the Native American gaming industry. But, just now, it may be a prohibitively expensive proposition.
Troubles with Stitt
Republican governor Kevin Stitt has squabbled with operators over revenue share payments, despite his status as the first and only Native American governor in the US.
His failed attempts to squeeze more money out of tribal operators has led to stalemate over sports betting, which can only be authorized by the state legislature.
This is partly why some of Oklahoma’s largest operators are branching out into commercial markets outside the state or are exploring opportunities in states where they claim ancestral ties, a prerequisite for tribal gaming.
With sports betting currently off the table in Oklahoma, mobile gaming seems like an obvious opportunity to explore growth.
But Stitt’s days may be numbered. The five biggest tribes have thrown their weight behind Democratic challenger Joy Hofmeister for November’s gubernatorial election, donating generously to her campaign.
She’s currently marginally ahead in the polls and, if elected, may be willing to lend a sympathetic ear to conversations about sports betting.
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