Opening of a New Casino in Pope County May be Delayed

Oklahoma is home to a huge number of popular tribal casinos. More are continuing to open around the state every few years. This weekend, the Cherokee Tribe’s attempt to open a new casino in Pope County started facing trouble from an anti-casino group in the state.

Oklahoma Casinos

It’s unfortunate news, especially considering the way the land-based casino industry is faring right now. Today, we’re going to take a look at why this group is pushing against the opening of the new gambling venue.

Let’s get into it!

All Casinos in Oklahoma Are Closed

This is the most unusual time in the history of the US gambling industry. Never before have all of the country’s casinos been forced to close. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what’s happening right now due to the spread of the new coronavirus, called Covid-19.

Since March, all casinos in the state of Oklahoma have been closed to the public. Health officials warn that these venues are ideal places for a virus to spread. It remains unclear when the state’s casinos will be able to open their doors again.

Obviously, this has resulted in a huge loss of revenue. Many Native American tribes in the state rely on their casinos for funding. Due to the closing of these venues, many are losing out on millions of dollars every single month.

Rates of Covid-19 continue to rise in Oklahoma. As of today, 1,868 individuals have been confirmed positive here. An additional 74 cases were recorded over the past 24 hours. Most experts believe the true number of cases is significantly higher.

As long as infection rates are increasing, casinos in the state are likely to remain shut down. That doesn’t mean certain groups aren’t already looking to the future, though. Unfortunately, even tribes looking to open new casinos in the state are facing backlash.

Anti-Gambling Group Fights Against New Casino in Pope County

Oklahoma’s casino laws are constantly changing. New regulations are occasionally introduced that allow for more gambling venues to be built in the state. Back in 2018, the state approved Constitutional Amendment 100, which allows a new casino to be constructed in Pope and Jefferson Counties.

Under the amendment, the new casinos must gain approval from local officials. Interestingly, a clause was introduced that claims only local officials present at the time of the application submittal need to approve the casino plans. Eventually, the Cherokee Tribe introduced plans to open a new casino in Pope County.

Local officials seemed happy with the proposed $38.8 million casino. Not everyone wants to see this venue built, though. A major anti-casino group in the state is now claiming that the approval of this casino goes against a restraining order set in place last December.

This group, called Citizens for a Better Pope County, sued the Racing Commission in December, resulting in a temporary restraining order. They now feel the Commission has no ability to approve a casino license while the restraining order is set in place.

“The Commission runs the risk of violating the [restraining order] with its announced course of action,” said Jerry Malone, an attorney for the Citizens for a Better Pope County. “Additionally, various counts in the Second Amended Complaint raise substantive allegations that it constitutes an illegal exaction for the Commission to expend taxpayer dollars in consideration of Cherokee Nation’s Good Cause Shown Application.” 

Members of the Cherokee Nation have not yet commented on this legal situation. We’ll need to wait and see what steps are taken to approve the new casino in Pope County over the next few weeks.

Oklahoma Lawmakers and Tribes Are Still Arguing in Court

The legal fight between the Cherokee and the anti-gambling group isn’t the only one taking place in Oklahoma. For months, other tribes in the state have been in a bitter dispute with Oklahoma’s leaders. This fight is all about gambling revenue.

Kevin Stitt, the Governor of Oklahoma, believes that the gaming compacts signed with tribes more than 15 years ago have expired. He claims it’s now time to negotiate the terms of these compacts. This includes seeing more of the casino revenue going to the state.

Stitt, along with many other state politicians, now believes that these tribes are operating their casinos illegally. Despite these opinions, the tribes are continuing to go about business as usual. Thus far, negotiations between the state and tribes have been largely unsuccessful.

Plans to open the new casino in Pope County have been introduced. It seemed as if they had been approved, as well. The Citizens for a Better Pope County are now working to keep this casino from ever opening its doors.

As we said earlier, this is a very unusual time for the state’s casino industry. Hopefully, things begin getting back to normal over the next month or two.

Stay tuned for more Oklahoma casino news over the next few weeks!