he Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association on Monday said the state Office of Management and Enterprise Services reported payments totaling nearly $123 million during the fiscal year that ended June 30, down from nearly $150 million the previous year.
They are blaming the closure of Oklahoma casinos due to the coronavirus pandemic for the drop in fees paid to the state, the Associated Press reports.
“A lot of tribes, the majority of their businesses are their gaming facilities, so you know they took a big hit during the coronavirus from perspective of revenue coming in,” said Matthew Morgan, Chairman of the Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association.
“We’ve done this over the last 15 years totaling more than $1.6 billion into the state for education, so very important, you know, goes to a very important cause,” said Morgan.
As reported by NEWS 12, Morgan and Oklahoma State Representative, Dustin Roberts said despite the drastic decrease, both governments were able to prepare to some extent.
“To their credit, we saw very little unemployment happen across tribal governments during this time,” said Morgan.
“We’ve made up the difference there with the CARES act money that came down from the feds, and some of the money that we have kind of set up off to the side,” said Roberts.
Monthly payments fell from $12.2 million in February to less than $21,000 in March when tribes closed casinos in an effort to help slow the spread of the virus.
Casinos began reopening in May.
Before casinos shut down, Morgan said they were on track to set a new payment record, nearing $155-160 million for the total fiscal year. Choctaw Nation representative, Janie Dillard, said that while they felt an impact from March to May, since they reopened, they have been able to rebound for June and July.
“For the first 8 months of this fiscal year we were averaging about $12.5 million in exclusivity fees a month until coronavirus. So $11.7 million is a little lower than normal, but you know it’s nice to see after those couple of months there with very little money,” said Morgan.
Because of those high fees and funds saved before COVID-19, both tribal revenue and state budgets are expected to quickly recover.
“The health and safety of our kids will be taken care of even with the budget shortfalls that we’ve had. That’s what those savings accounts are for is bad times like these that we’re in,” said Roberts.