Editor, Daily Press:
In her Sept. 5 column, Kathy Tibbits argues that casinos and their operators, who receive billions, “don’t owe Oklahoma a penny.” Tibbits declares strident opposition to renegotiation of state-tribal gaming compacts, opposes requiring casinos to play by some of the same rules as average working Oklahomans and small businesses, and opposes fair exclusivity fees for casinos to maintain a monopoly on who receives billions from slot machines in Oklahoma.
Tibbits is wrong, and not just because she believes Oklahoma and the U.S. operate like France. The monopoly right to run multimillion-dollar casinos is of enormous financial value, and Oklahoma citizens are right to expect fair compensation in return for that special treatment.
Think current casinos and their tribal governments don’t have monopoly gaming rights? Try to open a casino of your own and watch what happens. The 6 percent fee paid on slot machines is a fraction of the rate paid by casino interests in other states with comparable facilities. In fact, state-local sales tax rates on a bottle of water or groceries are higher.
I understand why those who benefit from the casino’s sweetheart deal adamantly defend casinos, but reasoned analysis can only conclude this giveaway to casino monopolies cannot be justified, because it disenfranchises most law-abiding Oklahomans from operating casinos and comes at the expense of short-changing funding for core services all across Oklahoma.
Also, unlike Oklahomans who pay income tax, or small business owners who pay income, sales and property taxes, Oklahoma’s casinos are not subject to direct state audits – another example of special treatment. Even more, it’s an unfair use of government power to allow only a favored few to engage in a specific business, particularly when those politically favored entities are also allowed to operate under a different set of rules than other Oklahomans, even when it comes to funding political activity.
Negotiators and-or lawmakers could bring fairness to the system and increase transparency by changing state law to allow all Oklahomans to run a casino, subject to criminal background checks and similar measures. If that happens, current casinos will still be allowed to operate and will also face genuine competition for billions of gambling dollars for the first time.
Absent ending the current monopoly, Oklahomans should expect casinos to pay a fair price for their monopoly and submit to accountability.
Jonathan Small, president
Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs