Oklahoma organization issues support for renegotiation of tribal gaming compacts

OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – As the battle over the state’s tribal gaming compacts continues, another organization is speaking out about the fight.

Currently, Native American tribes pay Oklahoma 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 10 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, Gov. Kevin Stitt recently sent a letter to 35 tribal leaders saying it is time to renegotiate the terms of the agreement.

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Stitt says that since July, he has been working to renegotiate the compact but hasn't gotten any closer to a deal.

"They have refused to communicate with me," he said.

The tribes have contended the compact automatically renews if new agreements aren’t reached, but the governor disagrees.

"This compact was signed 15 years ago and the fact is that it expires on January 1, 2020. This is going to cause extreme uncertainty if we don't renegotiate by January 2020," he said.

However, officials with the Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association say the governor is misinformed.

Stephen Greetham, senior counsel for the Chickasaw Nation, said Stitt didn't mention the paragraph of the clause that talks about the compact renewing automatically.

"The compact renews. There's no reasonable argument that it doesn't," said Greetham.

Now, an outside organization is speaking out about the negotiations.

The Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs has announced its support for the renegotiation of the gaming compacts.

“Oklahoma’s gaming industry is the third-largest in the nation bringing in $4.4 billion last year. However, the state only collected $153 million in fees, one of the lowest totals in the country,” said Curtis Shelton, OCPA Policy Research Fellow. “With the gaming industry now the eighth largest industry in the state, it’s clear that these tribal compacts have an enormous impact on all Oklahomans. This study provides a foundation of facts for this important issue.”

The organization's report compares Oklahoma's tribal gaming industry to other states' exclusivity fees and tax rates. The report claims the exclusivity fees in Oklahoma are much lower than the tax rates paid by commercial casinos and tribal casinos in other states.

When it comes to comparing compacts in other states, Matthew Morgan, chairman of the Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association, argues that the other states are in entirely different situations.

While most states have a compact agreement with a handful of tribes, Oklahoma has 35 tribes participating in the agreement.

Greetham adds that 92% of the other compacts in the country are similar to Oklahoma's rate, and says Oklahoma is receiving more than $400 per citizen from the current compact.

"No other state pulls in numbers like that," he said.

On Wednesday, the Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association sent News 4 the following statement:

"Governor Stitts's stance on auto-renewal has created a barrier to engaging in meaningful discussions about rates. Every market is different. Our rates are fair in Oklahoma. They have generated over $1.5 billion in fees for the state. The Tribes would be willing to engage in an honest and good faith discussion on rates when the current dispute with Governor Stitt is resolved."

At this point, it doesn't appear as if either side is closer to a deal before the Jan. 1 deadline.

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