SHAWNEE, Okla. (KFOR) - For the first time since the renegotiation of gaming compacts was mentioned by Governor Stitt, tribal leaders and Attorney General Mike Hunter finally sat down to talk on Monday.
It was a high stakes meeting that has been in the works for months at the Grand Casino, just outside of Shawnee.
“Not to be trite, but you have to walk before you can run,” said Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter.
The meeting took place for just over an hour behind closed doors with representatives from 31 tribes across the state about the gaming compacts.
“We had a very positive and constructive conversation today with tribal leaders,” said Hunter.
Hunter talked for the first time publicly about the issue on Monday.
Back in July, Governor Stitt sent a letter to the tribes saying he wanted to renegotiate the current gaming compact that is set to expire at the end of 2019.
The tribes have contended the compact automatically renews if new agreements aren’t reached. The Governor disagrees.
When pressed if there was any movement on the automatic renewal…
“We're hopeful on getting resolution on that issue as well as sitting down and negotiating generally on the compact,” said Hunter.
The Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association issued a statement after today’s meeting saying,
“We appreciate Attorney General Hunter taking the time today to meet with tribal leaders from across the state. It is clear the state has a major dispute over automatic renewal. Tribal leaders will take time to assess today’s discussion with Attorney General Hunter. Nothing is more important to the Tribes than resolving the automatic renewal and we are committed to continued dialogue.”
The renewal is obviously a sticking point but at the heart of the issue: exclusivity fees.
Right now, Tribes pay 4-10 percent of total gaming revenues to the state in order to be the only entities allowed to legally gamble. The Governor has said that’s below the national average of 20-25 percent.
“It's important for the tribes and the state that this part of our economy remains competitive…there just too much that we agree on and too many great things that the state has done working with tribal governments,” said Hunter.
In September, the state announced they had hired an outside firm with tribal gaming experience to help with their negotiations.
Gaming is a $4 billion a year industry in Oklahoma, with the state taking in more than $130 million in fees.
“The stakes are very significant here,” said Hunter.
The governor was not at the meeting on Monday but issued a statement saying,
“The Attorney General has been the lead negotiator for the state over the past couple months, and I appreciate his representation of the state at the meeting in Shawnee,” Governor Kevin Stitt said. “He has been a strong partner in our continued dialogue with the tribes as we reached this mutual date to begin a government-to-government discussion on the gaming compacts. When we are all working together, I am confident the state and Oklahoma’s 39 tribes can achieve a win-win for all 4 million Oklahomans.”
The Attorney General tells KFOR he is hoping to meet again soon. He also issued a statement later saying,
“The governor and I appreciate the leaders of the tribes for coming together in the first of a series of meetings we hope to have while discussing the Oklahoma gaming compacts. The state is committed to a positive outcome that is mutually beneficial. As we have demonstrated in past negotiations, it is vastly important that we work together through the process, no matter how complex negotiations of this magnitude may be. It is the state’s belief that we can resolve our differences quickly and in a way that achieves our shared goals.”