Greater Oklahoma City Chamber - Big Bonanza: Indian gaming jobs pay out $1.8 billion annually, study shows

Big Bonanza: Indian gaming jobs pay out $1.8 billion annually, study shows

Thursday, July 30, 2015

By Molly M. Fleming
The Journal Record

OKLAHOMA CITY – The Oklahoma Indian gaming industry employed 37,403 people last year through direct jobs and those indirectly related to the gambling operations, according to a study commissioned by the Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association.

In the same year, 60,000 Oklahomans were employed in logging and mining, including the energy industry; 76,000 had jobs in construction; and 348,000 worked for some form of government entity, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The tribal gaming jobs had a total payroll of $1.8 billion, which spawned a $6.3 billion economic output.

The economic impact study was completed by Oklahoma City University economics professor Kyle Dean and Matt Robinson, principal at KlasRobinson Q.E.D.

“These numbers are very, very conservative right now,” Robinson said, reiterating that the study numbers are not final.

He and Dean presented the data during a Tuesday session at the OIGA conference at the Cox Convention Center.

Dean and Robinson surveyed the 30 tribes in OIGA, and 75 percent responded. Dean said this was a better response than he received in 2012 when he tried to do a study on the tribes’ total economic impact, which had responses from less than 10 tribes. In the 2014 study, Dean and Robinson found that the tribes operated 124 casinos, which have 71,750 slot machines, 800 table games and 4,600 bingo-type games. There are 19 casinos with hotels, which have 4,700 rooms, 200 restaurants, 180 holes of golf and four spas.

Tribal attorney Kirke Kickingbird attended the session and said nation are often reluctant to respond to such surveys because they are afraid the information will be used against them. He said he thinks more tribes will respond in the future because they will see how the information can be useful to show Oklahoma leaders.

The study found that 23,375 people were employed directly in a casino, with an additional 5,667 jobs created to support the casinos’ operations, and another 8,459 positions started because of the spending from the indirect jobs. These figures do not include construction; the casino industry generated $3.1 billion in construction costs during the study year. The construction cost total included supporting fields, such as architecture and engineering.

The more than 5,000 support jobs totaled $283.6 million in payroll, which fueled another $800 million in economic output. That total created 8,459 additional positions, which had $345.8 million in earnings, and an output of $1.2 billion.

Dean said the surprising number to him was that 60 percent of direct casino jobs are held by nontribal employees. Robinson saw it the opposite way, pointing out that while 40 percent of the positions are held by tribal members, 11 percent are people working for another tribe.

Those casino employees were able to take their combined $1.16 billion in wages and benefits, and reinvest it into their communities, helping to fuel the additional 14,126 jobs. The casino operators’ spending on goods and services dumped another $1.2 billion into the economy, with $580 million spent at Oklahoma companies, according to the study.

Casinos saw a total of 38.2 million visits in the study year, with 14.6 million being travelers from out of state.

“That means it’s a tourism driver,” Robinson said.

These figures do not include every tribal employee, meaning tribal government employees were not counted. Former Quapaw Tribe Chairman JR Mathews said he would like to see a study that includes those numbers. He said his tribe has used its gaming revenue to fund fire departments and other community support services. Sheila Morago, OIGA executive director, reminded him it was the organization that commissioned the study. She said she plans to have the study commissioned every year to track trend data.

“Without (tribes), the state would be failing,” Mathews said.

Read the story online at The Journal Record's website.