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Jackpot

Some tribes in Oklahoma basked in the news that Indian gaming revenues had risen by some $500 million over last year. National Indian Gaming Commission figures for 2008 were released showing that Oklahoma figured prominently in casino operation growth.

One of the state’s most prominent gaming tribes, the Chickasaw Nation, was pleased with the news that gross revenues topped $26.7 billion nationally. The 38,000-member tribe operates more than 10 casinos in south central Oklahoma. One of the tribe’s leaders was optimistic about the news of gaming growth. The Chickasaws recently announced their intent to bid on Remington Park, a racetrack near downtown Oklahoma City.

“As long as Oklahoma (gaming) is doing well, we all do well,” said Chickasaw Lt. Gov. Jefferson Keel.

To date, around 100 gaming sites are operated by 34 tribes in Oklahoma.

The NIGC credited the sheer growth in gaming activity in Oklahoma as the reason it recently added a new regional office in Oklahoma City. The new site will handle the western part of the state and Texas, officials said. Former Tulsa region field investigator, Tom Cunningham, will direct the office.

Cunningham said shortly after the figures were released that the close proximity of smaller gaming states like Texas and Missouri boost the state’s overall progress. Nineteen tribes fall into the NIGC’s Oklahoma City watch.

“Oklahoma is a different market. Those (out-of-state) monies always help Oklahoma’s numbers. If you look at the figures, Oklahoma’s economy is not as bad as some.”

Cunningham said that with nearly 100 casinos, Oklahoma has yet to reach a saturation level, at least not in the western part of the state. He said the eastern portion of Oklahoma could crest first because more casinos and larger sites are located there.

Meanwhile, news of higher gaming revenues was met with caution by other tribes.

Oscar Codopony, Comanche Nation gaming commissioner, said tribes in western Oklahoma might view gaming growth reports less enthusiastically. The 14,000-Comanche Nation operates five casinos in far southwest Oklahoma.

“What we’ve been seeing this year, in the western part of the state, is that we (gaming tribes) are going to be pleased to keep even.”

Blockbuster figures in Indian gaming are a delicate thing to consider, said Jim Gray, principal chief of the Osage Nation. He worries that the general assumption regarding Indian gaming success will stop at just dollar bills.

“People in the mainstream see those figures and then they come to have misperceptions about Indian gaming and what it’s about. Those monies go into building tribal economies, creating jobs and tribal programs.”

Gray said the Oklahoma gaming market still has work to do. He hopes state governments will keep a cooperative frame of mind when dealing with tribes.

“Tribes are not shopping their money out-of-state. The money stays at home and spurs the local economies, too.”

Smaller Oklahoma tribes were happy with the gaming revenues. Kerry Holton, chairman of the Western Delaware of Oklahoma, said while the news was good overall, he regretted one aspect of the announcement.

“I wish they hadn’t published the numbers, but it’s reflective of the situation in our casino.” The 1,300-member tribe operates one casino in Anadarko, Okla. “I think we’re all doing well. In most cases, gaming is our only economic engine, but I think there’s life after casinos.”

The figures released by the NIGC were calculated from information compiled from independent audits required from tribes by the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988.