Sheila Morago, Executive Director, Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association
What a year 2020 has been so far. More than 100,000 Americans, and more than 325,000 people worldwide, have lost their lives to COVID-19, and as a nation we mourn each life lost. Many more people are critically ill, and more still are suffering economic consequences or job loss.
COVID-19 has turned much of our lives, personal and professional, upside down. Much of the country, including Oklahoma, essentially locked down in mid-March. Tribal governments closed casinos, hotels, business offices and more, and turned their focus towards creating testing sites, ensuring their citizens had medical care and food, and securing appropriate federal dollars to aid in this work and to stabilize Tribal economies.
1. What does the rest of 2020 look like for Tribal gaming in Oklahoma?
That’s one of the biggest questions we face. As of this writing, almost all of the Tribal casinos have reopened, with the exception of those being slightly delayed due to COVID-19 outbreaks in their areas. Tribes have been working around the clock to deploy new security and safety measures. All are opening at a much-diminished capacity or limiting hours of operation.
Other tactics in use include round-the-clock cleaning and disinfecting, disabling every other machine to facilitate social distancing, all are requiring team members to wear masks when indoors; many require patrons to wear masks as well. Food service is being kept to a minimum and buffets are closed, and some casinos are even doing special prize drawings in which you must be wearing a mask to win. While reopening seems to be going well, Tribes are also ready to modify operations as things change. COVID-19 is something we’ve never seen before, and it’s going to be with us until a vaccine is developed, so remaining flexible and adaptive will be key moving forward.
2. Where does the ongoing litigation brought by 12 Tribes against Oklahoma’s Governor Kevin Stitt stand?
In March, the federal judge assigned to the case required the parties to go to mediation. The original deadline set forth by the judge was extended due to COVID-19. At this point, the deadline for coming to an agreement via mediation is upon us. No agreement was reached and both sides have filed documents arguing that Chief U.S. District Judge Timothy DeGiusti should rule in their favor, finding the compacts automatically renewed when it comes to the Tribes or ruling they expired when it comes to Stitt.
3. When will OIGA’s 2020 Conference and Trade Show take place?
Unfortunately, it won’t be taking place. The membership of Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association held an emergency meeting (via one of the virtual meeting platforms we all seem to spend our days on) in early May and, in a very clear-cut yet difficult decision, voted to cancel its 2020 Conference and Trade Show, in an abundance of caution related to the ongoing novel coronavirus pandemic and continuing spread of COVID-19. The annual Conference and Trade Show had been slated for July 27-29 in Tulsa and draws thousands of exhibitors and attendees each year. It is the second largest Tribal gaming trade show in the country.
OIGA’s Chairman Matthew L. Morgan issued this statement: COVID-19 and the coronavirus pandemic continue to be unpredictable variables in attempting to plan our annual conference in July. Today, our membership voted to cancel this year’s event. This is not a decision that we have taken lightly. The complex nature of staging our event, the intricate planning required on the part of vendors and attendees and the ongoing challenges presented by the virus led us to this decision.
4. What about 2021?
For 2021, dates are July 26-28, and we plan to be back in Oklahoma City, at the brand new and beautiful Oklahoma City Convention Center and the adjacent new Omni Hotel. We are already planning for a top-notch event, realizing that even by then we may be looking at new ways to gather in large groups, and we are constantly monitoring the industry to look for ways to adapt, should that be necessary. A lively, fun, informative, high-energy assembly of some of the biggest names in the gaming and hospitality industries. It’s filling up fast, so don’t miss out. For readers wishing to reserve booth(s) at the 26th Annual Conference & Trade Show, contact Jennie via email at firstname.lastname@example.org, by fax at 918-245-8007, or by mail at OIGA Registration, 1601 S. 129th W. Ave., Sand Springs, OK 74063.
5. Anything else happening that we need to be aware of?
Of course, in Oklahoma, we are also carefully watching the Supreme Court of the United States, in anticipation of its ruling in McGirt v. Oklahoma, which could return swaths of Oklahoma to Tribal nations.
It’s a busy and truly unprecedented time, and I’m proud to be a part of an industry that constantly strives to do the right thing. We will meet every challenge we face, together, and come out stronger on the other side.