“Moral objection” to gambling bill holds up bi-partisan House budget package with Senate leadership

OKLAHOMA CITY - After House Republicans and Democrats agreed to tie a tentative bow on a revenue package early Monday morning to help fill the nearly $900 million budget hole, the deal was dealt a blow by Senate leadership hours later.

The sticking point, according to Senate leadership, coming from one revenue raising measure that would change how tribes use dice and ball games.

"For me, personally?" said Senate President Pro Tempore Mike Schulz, R-Altus, Monday afternoon. "Yeah, it's a moral objection."

Schulz and Sen. Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma City, held a press conference to address the bi-partisan $400 million budget plan freshly inked after a weekend of late-night negotiations between House Republicans and Democrats.

“There was no agreement that happened last night," Schulz said. "There was another proposal that was floated out. My understanding, of that proposal, was that (House Minority Leader Scott) Inman was asking for full-blown Vegas-style gambling in Oklahoma.”

A categorization Inman and Republicans close to the budget package talks balk at.

"The proposal allowed the tribal casinos to use dice and a ball in games that they already do," said House Majority Floor Leader Jon Echols, R-Oklahoma City, in a statement to NewsChannel 4, "and would have brought in $20 million to the state this year alone without raising a single tax.​"

House Republicans and Democrats said both sides worked past midnight Monday morning to hammer out compromises on votes in exchange for raising the state's cigarette tax, capping itemized tax deductions, restoring earned income tax credits, halting refunds for gas and oil production, as well as the change to gambling legislation.

"At about 11:30 this morning, apparently Senator Schulz contacted Representative Echols and said he would not support the deal," Inman said during a press conference Monday afternoon.

Inman called out Schulz and Senate leadership for stalling a budget package that some Senate Republicans might even be in favor of.

"I hope that we're not back to square one," said Inman, D-Del City. "I mean, the fact that Democrats and House Republicans had come to some sort of consensus on significant revenue measures is an enormous step."

A step that has been a hard one to take as time ticks away towards the deadline to pass a budget and fill an $878 million budget shortfall.

Despite the apparent setback, the Joint Committee on Appropriations and Budget agreed late Monday afternoon to send several of the agreed-to revenue measures - like the cigarette tax hike and gambling - off to the House.

One House Republican saying, "moral objection" or not, gambling in Oklahoma is here to stay. But, Schulz and Treat said Senate Republicans' opposition to the gambling legislation remains steadfast but are open to other revenue options.

"We hope they'll send those to us," Treat said. "We don't care in what manner they send them to us. If they send them as a package or as a stand-alone, that is their call to figure out how to do it."

A House vote on the cigarette tax legislation could come as early as Tuesday.