OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - Oklahoma's tribal casinos are abandoning their traditional bingo parlor atmosphere and developing into resort destinations where the emphasis is on entertainment, tribal officials and gaming executives said Monday at a tribal gaming conference and trade show.
“Indian gaming facilities will have to evolve. They're not old metal buildings full of smoke anymore,” said David Qualls, chairman of the Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association.
About 3,000 tribal officials and gaming executives attended the OIGA's 14th annual conference where they visited displays and kiosks featuring the latest in gaming machines, casino management systems and food and furniture vendors.
Oklahoma is home to 91 gaming centers that have formal compacts with the state, according to Derek Campbell of the Office of State Finance.
But the number of casinos in the state has reached a plateau as existing casinos focus on expanding their property with resort hotels, restaurants and entertainment venues that host top-name performers, Qualls said.
“They're growing by leaps and bounds,” he said.
Indian gaming in Oklahoma began in the early 1980s with high-stakes bingo games. But casino construction and expansion accelerated after voters in 2004 passed State Question 712, which allowed for gambling agreements between the state and Indian tribes.
The agreements allowed casinos to expand the kinds of games they offered and for the state to share in the revenue. Oklahoma's take from the tribal agreements was $70.4 million in 2007, triple the previous year, state records show.
Today, tribal casinos have a $1 billion impact on Oklahoma's economy each year and employ 25,000 people, Qualls said.
“If it's good for the tribes, it's going to be good for the state,” he said.
Tribal gaming compacts have developed new revenue for the state as well as opportunities for tribes to become self-sufficient and provide better housing, health care and educational opportunities for tribal members, Qualls said.
They also are fueling growth in the number of gaming machines the state has. There are currently 45,000 bingo-based and slot-type machines in the state - more than in the state of Pennsylvania, said John J. Connelly of Las Vegas.
Connelly is the international vice president for Bally Technologies and one of dozens of casino vendors at the OIGA trade show.
Casino expansion projects are expected to increase the number of gaming machines in the state by 10 percent, Connelly said.
“We are absolutely focused on this market,” Connelly said. Bally currently has 3,500 machines in the state “and growing,” he said.
Connelly said expansion of the types of games Oklahoma casinos can offer has allowed Bally to market the same state-of-the-art gaming machines found in Las Vegas and Atlantic City in the state.
“Now the advantages we hold are significantly greater,” he said.
Qualls said the expansion of gaming opportunities has prompted OIGA to step up its problem gambler's program and promote awareness of compulsive gamblers by casino workers.
“I don't want to take your money,” Qualls said. “If you need to win, you don't need to play.”