OKLAHOMA CITY - Native American tribes pay the state more than $140 million a year in gaming exclusivity fees, but come January, the 15-year deal between the tribes and the state is set to expire. Now Governor Kevin Stitt says it's time to rethink that original agreement.
Oklahoma Tribes pull in $4.5 billion annually thanks to casino-style gaming and of that 4-6% goes back to the state as an exclusivity fee.
According to the Governor, in a recent Tulsa World Op-Ed piece, that is well below the national average of 20-25%.
So Stitt has issued a letter to 35 tribal leaders saying:
When I took office as Governor of the State of Oklahoma in January, one of the first matters of which I was apprised was the upcoming termination of the Tribal-State Gaming Compacts. As I believe you are aware, Part 15 Section B of the Compact referenced above, provides in part that the Compact shall expire on January 1, 2020. Moreover, since there has been no governmental action of the State, or court order authorizing electronic gaming in the State, since the effective date of the Compact, I have been advised that the Compact will not automatically renew. Therefore, I believe it is necessary, prudent, and in the best interests of the State of Oklahoma and the [Nation/Tribe] to begin negotiating the terms of a new gaming compact as soon as reasonably practicable.
Accordingly, pursuant to Article 6 of the Oklahoma Constitution, 74 O.S. § 1221 C.1., and Part 15 Section B of the Compact, I am hereby requesting that we renegotiate not only the terms of Subsections A and E of Part 11 of the Compact, but the rest of the terms of the Compact as well. Obviously, because of the January 1, 2020, termination date, it is imperative that we reach an agreement and obtain the approval of the Department of the Interior prior to the end of 2019, so that the [Nation/Tribe] may continue to lawfully conduct certain class III games in Oklahoma after that date.
Please have the individual(s) who will be negotiating on behalf of the [Nation/Tribe] contact the office of my General Counsel, Mark Burget, so we may begin the negotiation process as soon as possible. Mr. Burget may be reached at Mark.Burget@gov.ok.gov.
Thank you for your time and attention. I look forward to working with you to conclude a mutually satisfactory and beneficial agreement.
Yours very truly,
J. Kevin Stitt, Governor
"I think we have contributed greatly to the state much more than perhaps he is aware of," said Kirke Kickingbird.
Kickingbird is a tribal law expert that helped negotiate the original agreement in 2005.
"They are having trouble managing money and they want to find other sources," said Kickingbird.
Stitt says the 4-6% fee was meant for the first 15 years so tribes would have extra funds to invest in gaming infrastructure.
Kickingbird says the current fee would be plenty if the state would move games closer to Vegas-style gambling.
"The tribe would get their percentage and the state would get their percentage as well," said Kickingbird.
Tribal leaders are reacting to Governor Stitt's letter.
Governor Bill Anoatubby of the Chickasaw Nation saying,
“The Governor’s position, as stated in his editorial and letter, came as a surprise to us. A position of this significance warrants respectful and purposeful conversations, particularly given the complexity of the compact and the law. We are evaluating the Governor’s letter and will consider our options. We have always placed a high value on the partnership we have enjoyed with the state of Oklahoma. This constructive relationship has benefited the economy and the citizens of Oklahoma. It is our hope to preserve this positive partnership so we can continue to work together for the betterment of our state.”
Governor Reggie Wassana of the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes saying:
“The Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes have read the notice to the tribes for renegotiating the gaming compact. The initial intent of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988 (IGRA) was to support the development of tribal economies. Since the passing of State Question 712 which authorized Class 3 gaming in Oklahoma, our Tribes have paid the state of Oklahoma around $50 million in exclusivity fees and all of the Tribes in Oklahoma combined have paid more than $1.2 billion in exclusivity fees to the state of Oklahoma.
The Tribes bore the financial risk and built all of the infrastructure and facilities to build casino gambling in Oklahoma while the state has been fortunate to reap the rewards without any investment or risk on its part. The Tribes use every penny of its gaming net revenues to provide for our tribal members, to operate our tribal government, to fund tribal programs and to assist our surrounding communities.
Although the Tribes are certainly open to Governor Stitt's request to negotiate new terms for a gaming compact, our view is we do not feel that taking away from our tribal members services is the best option for the Tribes. Any negotiations that involve raising the fees would be detrimental to the Tribes and does not protect the interest of our Tribal government.
As we have always done and will continue to do, our Tribes invest in our futures and stabilize the neediest of elders to maintain a decent quality of life. We invest in our children. Our investment far outweighs the investment that may or could be offered through the Governor's plan. As the language of the compact implies, if no new compact negotiations are agreed upon between the Tribes and the State, the current Compact shall automatically renew for successive additional fifteen-year terms. The language of the law should prevail.”
Tribal attorneys say if a new pact is not agreed upon before 2020, the old one will stay in place for another 15 years.