Tribal leaders doubling down on battle over gaming agreement

OKLAHOMA CITY – Tribal leaders are doubling down on their stance after Governor Kevin Stitt said he wanted to renegotiate the state’s tribal gaming agreement.

Currently, Native American tribes pay the state more than $140 million a year in gaming exclusivity fees from casinos. However, some state leaders say it is time for that to change.

Oklahoma tribes earn $4.5 billion each year thanks to casino-style gaming. Of that money, anywhere from 4 to 6 percent goes back to the state in exclusivity fees.

Since the 15-year deal between the state and the tribes is set to expire in January, Stitt recently sent a letter to 35 tribal leaders saying it is time to renegotiate the terms of the agreement.

Kirke Kickingbird is a tribal law expert who helped negotiate the original agreement in 2005.

“They are having trouble managing money and they want to find other sources,” Kickingbird told News 4.

On Aug. 22, the leaders of 34 Oklahoma tribal governments issued a second joint resolution in response to to a letter Gov. Stitt sent earlier this month.

“Many tribes have received Gov. Stitt’s most recent letter. While we appreciate his modified tone, and are pleased to see his inclusion of Attorney General Mike Hunter and the legislature, the original issues still remain, first and foremost of which is that the present Gaming Compact will automatically renew on January 1, 2020,” said Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association Chairman Matthew L. Morgan, Esq. “Gov. Stitt’s position is at odds with the leaders of 34 Tribal Nations, who also agree that the rates under the present Gaming Compact should not change. We recognize that Gov. Stitt has the right under the present Gaming Compact to request a renegotiation of rates paid under the Gaming Compact, however a month has a passed and our request for a proposal from the Gov. Stitt has gone unanswered.”

News 4 reached out to Gov. Stitt's office for a statement in response to the tribes' recent message.

“The Attorney General’s office is the lead on coordinating the meeting, and the governor’s office defers questions to the AG’s office on this matter. As for the letter, the governor believes strongly that if everyone can come to the table together to begin negotiations, we can achieve a win-win for both the tribes and all 4 million Oklahomans,” a statement from Baylee Lakey, Communications Director, read.

The Oklahoma Attorney General's Office sent News 4 the following statement:

“Our office is in the process of securing a meeting date and location that works well for everyone to begin the conversation on tribal compacts. The attorney general and the governor look forward to a mutually constructive and beneficial dialogue with tribal leadership. As with all negotiations, Attorney General Hunter believes they are most successful when we proceed in a manner that respects their dynamic and delicate nature. Therefore, there will be no further comment on the negotiations from the Attorney General’s Office or the Governor’s Office until further notice," said Alex Gerszewski, Communications Director.

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