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Cities and counties want a piece of casino revenue.

Byline: Molly M. Fleming

OKLAHOMA CITY At Thursday's Oklahoma Municipal League conference, as a presentation about tribal compacts came to an end, there was a question from the audience.

West Siloam Springs Mayor Elaine Carr raised her hand and asked if the compact negotiations are open meetings. Presenter Chris Benge, who is Gov. Mary Fallin's secretary of Native American affairs, said he didn't know the rules on those meetings.

But Carr was more interested in how cities and towns could be included in the compacts.

"Why don't cities and towns get money from the compacts?" she said. "We have to help pave the roads to get to their places."

Carr said she wasn't asking specifically for herself. West Siloam Springs has a great relationship with the Cherokee Nation. She said the tribe regularly gives money to the rural fire department and helps in other ways.

But she's been coming to the Oklahoma Municipal League conference for several years. She was first appointed to the West Siloam Springs City Council in 1998. She's heard from other municipal leaders that they would like to see more compact money come back to the cities since the cities do not get sales-tax dollars from the casinos.

There are more than 30 tribes that have gaming compacts with the state. InJanuary 2020, the compacts could roll over and continue to operate for another 15 years, or they could be changed.Within 180 days of the compacts' expiration dates, the exclusivity fees and the types of games can be renegotiated, but that doesn't mean they will.

The compacts outline the agreement for how much money or exclusivity fees the state will get from the tribes for operating casinos within the state. The fees range from 4 percent to 6 percent. The amount varies based on how much money the tribe brings in from the games. In fiscal 2017, the state collected $135 million in fees from the tribes.

Benge said he doesn't think the tribes will want to reopen the compacts.

"I don't see what the incentive would be," he said.

There was talk during the 2018 legislative session that the compacts would be renegotiated because of the addition of ball and dice gaming, but those new games were allowed under a compact addendum.

Benge said he thinks the tribes get a bad rap because they operate casinos, but that's unfortunate. Tribal governments are economic engines that continue to add value to the state.

He encouraged the session attendees to have good relationships with their tribal leaders and figure out how to work together.

Carr said she agreed, and that tribes can help cities. But she'd like to see the cities in the compacts.

Cotton County Commission Chairman Edward Eschiti has said previously that he'd like to see county governments included in the compacts.

Eschiti said he'd like to see the tribes provide more financial help inCottonCounty, especially with three casinos there. The exclusivity fees go back to the state's education fund. That money is distributed to all 77 counties, even if there's no casino in the area.

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Publication:Journal Record (Oklahoma City, OK)
Date:Sep 13, 2018
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