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Coronavirus blamed for drop in tribal gaming fees

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — The closure of tribal casinos in Oklahoma due to the coronavirus pandemic caused a drop of nearly $30 million in fees paid to the state, the Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association said Monday.

The Office of Management and Enterprise Services reported payments totaling nearly $123 million during the fiscal year that ended June 30, down from a record high of about $150 million the previous year, according to the agency’s data.

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“At the beginning of March 2020, Tribal Gaming in Oklahoma was experiencing a lucrative year, with exclusivity fees for fiscal year 2019-20 projected to top out between $155 – $165 million, which would have been a record,” OIGA Executive Director Sheila Morago said in a statement. “By mid-March, things had drastically changed. COVID-19 made its way to Oklahoma, and Tribal Nations took swift action, temporarily closing all gaming facilities by March 23.”

Monthly payments fell from $12.2 million in February to less than $21,000 in March, according to the OMES data.

Casinos began reopening in May, when fee payments rose to $2.7 million. Payments reached $11.7 million in June.

The Oklahoma State Department of Health on Monday reported 53,522 confirmed coronavirus cases and 730 deaths due to COVID-19, the illness caused by the virus, increases of 357 new cases and four more deaths from Sunday. The true number of cases in Oklahoma is likely higher because many people have not been tested and studies suggest people can be infected and not feel sick.

The health department reported 8,132 active cases of the virus and said 44,660 people have recovered.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.

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