Oklahoma Leader Vows to Defeat Gaming Bill

The Oklahoma House's top Republican vowed Thursday to defeat Senate-passed gaming legislation supported by Democratic Gov. Brad Henry, calling it a "money-losing proposition" for the state.

"I certainly hope we can defeat that for all Oklahomans," said Minority Leader Todd Hiett, who said the gaming bill and Henry's proposed tobacco tax legislation will not further GOP goals of improving the state's economy and creating jobs.

"This (legislative) session has to be about bringing good-paying jobs to Oklahoma," said Hiett, of Kellyville. "Gambling and cigarette taxes will not provide the basis to bring these jobs to Oklahoma."

The gaming measure passed the Senate 30-18 on Wednesday and is now in the House, where it faces an uphill battle.

A similar bill died in the House last year after Republicans said it would expand gambling and pave the way for Las Vegas-style operations. Henry has said the plan will not bring casino gaming to Oklahoma.

Officials have said the plan could raise $71 million in state revenue in its first full year.

Hiett said casinos would have to collect more than $1 billion in gaming dollars to produce that amount of revenue, money that would not be spent in other areas of the economy where state and local governments collect sales tax revenue.

"This is a money-losing proposition for Oklahoma," Hiett said.

House Speaker Larry Adair said Democratic leaders are working to build support for the measure in the 101-member House and have not scheduled the bill for a vote.

Adair has indicated that the House is divided on the issue and that some members of his own party oppose it. Democrats hold a slim majority in the House with 53 members.

Adair indicated that fewer than 50 House members have expressed support for the bill.

"As soon as we have the votes, we'll schedule it for a hearing," said Adair, D-Stilwell.

Among other things, the bill would let some horse racetracks operate electronic games now played only at Indian casinos.

The state's horse industry has been in decline and purses and attendance have dwindled as tribal casinos grabbed a larger and larger share of gaming revenue.

Meanwhile, horsemen expressed support for the measure.

Dee Raper, president of the Oklahoma Quarter Horse Racing Association, said the measure would provide job security for about 50,000 Oklahomans who are involved in the horse breeding and racing industry.

"It provides the racetracks with the opportunity they need to compete against the already existing tribal casinos, and dedicates that revenue to increasing purse sizes," Raper said.

The measure was endorsed Thursday by the Oklahoma Horse Racing Commission.

The measure is Senate Bill 553.

Most Popular Stories