A Necessary Evil?
The debate between arguments questioning the sufficiency of Oklahoma’s share of tribal gaming revenues, as well as the “hidden costs” of problematic gambling, versus the benefits of free medicine, clothing, school tuition, etc. to people with tribal blood, plus the afore-mentioned jobs and projects that tribal money contributes to the general public are complex. But what can be done to aid the casualties of gaming?
Anti-gambling advocates still contended: stop the practice. To the many of those in Oklahoma, no other remedy existed to the existential threat gambling posed to countless Oklahoma lives.
Short of that, Harwell suggested several things. For one, as of the 2020s, more money needed to flow from state gambling proceeds and voluntary tribal donations to protect the people of Oklahoma from themselves. “People don’t know how to get help, because we don’t have any money to promote (the needed) billboard or TV or radio campaigns,” he said. “That’s too expensive. We can’t do it.”
Also, tribal gaming compacts mandated training for casino workers in spotting problem gamblers, encouragement and enforcement of self-exclusion of problem gamblers from casinos, and other policies. Harwell, though, said that not all tribes participated in these programs, and there was no oversight or accountability to do so. He recommended “Strengthened guidelines, mandatory participation of all tribes, and some level of oversight to help those who develop a problem in the self-exclusion program so that we have a consistent, statewide program.”
Many Oklahomans criticized what conservative political activist Charlie Meadows of Guthrie called “a horribly unfair playing field”:
“When a tribe owns a business, they can collect sales taxes, but they don’t have to send them to the state. They do not have to pay corporate income taxes. They are exempt from paying property taxes, which is eroding the tax base in the counties which support our schools and county government. Tribes can collect, but don’t have to pay to the state, fuel taxes, nor taxes on tobacco products…They can sell their own license plates for trucks and cars; thus the state misses out on those revenues that the rest of us must pay to fund state government.”
Bill Paulk, one of that handful of Democrats who bucked the tide and stood against the 2004 ramping up of state gambling, still had fire in his eyes about the issue:
“Gambling in any form is a sucker’s game. The house wins. Winning the Irish sweepstakes or the Oklahoma lottery is a fantasy. It is an embarrassment that we would stoop so low as to resort to hoodwinking people into believing that it is okay. Meanwhile, we set aside only a miniscule amount to assist those who became addicted to gambling.”
Historian Bob Blackburn offered a sage, if ambivalent perspective on Oklahoma gaming:
“I don’t gamble and I don’t approve of it. I don’t think it’s healthy for a good society. For the purposes of a historian, however, tribal enterprise is self-determination. Self-rule is one thing, but if you don’t have the resources to do it the Chickasaw way or the Cherokee way, you’re a tool of the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
“How do you break two hundred years of federal government paternalism? It had to come from the tribes generating their own tax base. Without land, from where does the tax income come? That turned out to be tribal enterprise. It has created a cash flow that allows self-rule to become self-determination. Gaming might be bad for society, but it’s a passing phase that won’t last forever. For tribal sovereignty and tribal self-determination, it may be a necessary evil at this time.”
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Oklahomans Vol 2 :
Statehood - 2020s
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