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Coronavirus Impacted Tribal Gaming In Oklahoma, But Signs Point To A Rebound

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A dealer at Cherokee Casino & Hotel in West Siloam Springs, Okla.

The Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association released tribal gaming numbers on Monday, showing a nearly $30 million drop in fees paid to the state.

In March, things looked to be on track to be a record year for tribal gaming. Then, the pandemic hit and tribes voluntarily closed casino operations out of concern for member and public safety.

As a result, April saw an exclusivity payment of only $20,000. That's compared to more than $12 million in February.

Casinos across the state started to reopen in late May at a limited capacity and with extra cleaning and safety precautions in place.

Matt Morgan of the Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association says those safety precautions paid off as exclusivity numbers rose in June to levels seen pre-pandemic at nearly $12 million.

"I think that number reflective of them being with what tribal gaming operators are doing to ensure that they're taking the necessary protocols during this pandemic and you're seeing that with [customers] come in a little bit more often and play," Morgan said.

For the 2019-2020 fiscal year that ended on June 30, tribes paid more than $122 million in exclusivity fees to the state of Oklahoma. That's down from a record-high of about $150 million in fees during the 2018-2019 fiscal year.

In July, a federal judge ruled that tribal gaming compacts, which had been called into question by the Governor Kevin Stitt, automatically renewed. It's unclear if Stitt will appeal the decision.

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