Are casinos paying their fair share for education?

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OKLAHOMA CITY - As the teacher walkout continues at the State Capitol, some are asking why casino gaming hasn't provided the necessary money to fund Oklahoma's education needs.

Just how much do Indian Casinos contribute to the pot?

When you go the Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association (OGIA) website, you see it in big and bold letters: $7.2 billion.

"The $7.2 billion figure is the actual economic impact to the entire state. The actual number that has been paid to the state through K-12 funding is $1.2 billion," said Shelley Zumwalt of the Office of Management and Enterprise Services.

To be fair, the OGIA website says that in the fine print.

In 2004, Oklahomans passed State Question 712, allowing for Indian tribes to set up "Level 3" or "casino-style" gaming-like slots, blackjack and poker.

From the revenues generated by those games, the tribes then pay exclusivity fees. Last year, they amounted to almost $140 million.

Of that total, 88 percent goes to K-12 education - roughly $117 million - which is about 8 percent of the state's total school budget.

"I believe we have done our end of making sure those funds get to the state," said Sheila Morago of the Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association.

But, should the casinos be paying more?

Some say yes - Oklahoma's 6 percent tax is well below Connecticut's 25 percent compact agreement.

However, Oklahoma gaming officials say Oklahoma is above the national average. They also point out that Connecticut offers a full slate of games, including roulette and craps, and that 25 percent is only on slot machine profits.

"If you look at the full slate of what they have to offer, they only pay on a portion of what they have on the floor," said Morago.

The Oklahoma gaming compact comes up for renewal in 2020. Legislators will have the ability to change that rate.

Legislators also have HB1013XX on their docket, which would allow casinos to offer "ball and dice" games like roulette and craps. Some have those changes, generating an additional $24.9 million annually for education.

"If ball and dice does pass, that money would be attributed to the education fund. As it is now, 88 percent goes to K-12 funding," said Zumwalt.

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