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Study shows Native American Tribes' impact on Oklahoma's economy

The Oklahoma Tribal Finance Consortium's study found that the 16 tribal Nations based in the state had a $15.6 billion impact on the economy.

OKLAHOMA COUNTY, Okla. — In 2019, the Oklahoma Tribal Finance Consortium (OTFC) conducted a study using 16 tribal Nations based in Oklahoma, showing the tribes' substantial economic impact in the state.   

The study, released on Wednesday, March 23, found that Native American tribes in Oklahoma had a $15.6 billion impact on the state in 2019. The new report shows an increase of more than $2.6 billion in economic activity from 2017 to 2019. 

The tribes within Oklahoma directly employ more than 54,000 and provide 113,442 jobs to tribal citizens and non-citizens, accounting for over $5.4 billion in wages and benefits.

"Tribes are an economic driver as well as a constant and reliable partner," said Victor Flores, President of OTFC and Director of Tribal Services, REDW, LLC. "Unlike corporations that move based on economic conditions, our tribes are here to stay. Oklahoma is home, and we will continue to reinvest in our communities through job creation, critical service delivery and infrastructure development. Oklahoma is stronger when we all work together."

One of the most impactful contributions is the Tribal health care, which includes more than 45 operating facilities that provide care, in most locations, to both Native American and non-Native Oklahomans. When Native Americans get health care at tribal health facilities, the entire cost of care is paid by the federal government, resulting in savings to the state. In 2019, the tribes paid $232 million in Medicaid expenditures, saving Oklahoma $86 million by requiring no state matching funds.

"Tribally owned and federal health centers across the state provide life-saving treatment and improved quality of life to Native and non-Native citizens," said Nicolas Barton, Executive Director, Southern Plains Tribal Health Board. "In 2019 alone, there were 3.5 million patient visits at tribal health facilities in Oklahoma."

The gaming compacts between Oklahoma-based tribes and the state require the tribal nations to submit a percentage of their gaming revenues for the exclusive right to operate casinos in the state. Oklahoma sends the first $250,000 of these fees to the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services. The remaining 88% of funds are used for public education, supporting all Oklahomans. The Oklahoma tribes have paid more than $1.8 billion in exclusivity fees since 2006, with over $1.5 billion used for public education. In 2019, an additional $84 million was paid to support Oklahoma schools, municipalities and other community initiatives.

"Through our gaming industry, we employ more than 75,000 people, mostly in rural communities. We build roads and hospitals, invest in our public schools and universities and create programs to serve those who need assistance," said Matthew L. Morgan, Chairman, Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association. "We are proud of our past, excited about things happening right now, and determined to leave the next generation an industry, and an Oklahoma, that they can take pride in."

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