Gov. Stitt announces tribal gaming agreement between two tribal nations

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OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – In the midst of a global pandemic, Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt addressed the ongoing fight regarding tribal gaming compacts.

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.

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

However, the tribes have contended the compact automatically renews if new agreements aren’t reached.

“Unlike contracts, compacts are solemn agreements between two sovereigns that remain in force until both parties agree otherwise,” said Chickasaw Governor Bill Anoatubby.

The compact’s Part 15 B. states, “This Compact shall have a term which will expire on January 1, 2020, and at that time, if organization licensees or others are authorized to conduct electronic gaming in any form other than pari-mutuel wagering on live horse racing pursuant to any governmental action of the state or court order following the effective date of this Compact, the Compact shall automatically renew for successive additional fifteen-year terms.”

On the other hand, Gov. Stitt has said that if an agreement wasn’t reached by Jan. 1, that Class III gaming would be illegal in Oklahoma. When negotiations stalled, Stitt said that the only solution would be for the tribes to sign an extension for the compact.

“We do not want gaming to be illegal, and we do not want vendors to be operating illegally,” Stitt said earlier this month.

However, tribal leaders filed a federal lawsuit “to bring an end to the uncertainty Oklahoma Governor J. Kevin Stitt has attempted to cast over Tribal gaming operations.”

The lawsuit seeks a judicial declaration that the gaming compacts renew.

As COVID-19 cases began to appear across the state, casinos shut their doors and state leaders turned their attention to the deadly virus.

On Tuesday, Stitt held a news conference to announce that an agreement had been reached with two tribes; the Comanche and the Otoe-Missouria tribes.

“These new gaming compacts are in the best interest of the State, members of the Otoe-Missouria tribe and Comanche Nation and the local communities where these tribes reside and operate. The new compacts recognize the sovereign rights of individual tribes to conduct gaming in Oklahoma. The compacts take a sound approach to assessing the value of substantial exclusivity in a modernized tribal gaming industry, and importantly, the compacts expand opportunity for both the compacting tribes and the State to compete in future gaming markets,” said Gov. Stitt, Chairman Nelson and Chairman Shotton. “These tribe-specific agreements will strengthen Oklahoma’s gaming industry, enable tribes to adapt to a rapidly changing environment with new competitive opportunities and facilitate transparency in the administration of gaming enterprises.”

Stitt says that each tribe signed their own compact.

Officials with the Otoe-Missouria Tribe say they believed that the original compact renewed automatically in January, but they chose to negotiate with Gov. Stitt to reach their own agreement.

Here is a link to the Otoe-Missouria tribal compact.

“This Otoe-Missouria Tribal Council is excited about the signing of a new Class III Gaming
Compact with the State of Oklahoma. At a time when so much is uncertain in our tribal
government due to the Covid-19 situation, we have negotiated a new compact that provides
stability for the Otoe-Missouria Tribe’s future in gaming for our tribe, employees, patrons,
vendors, and our banking partners when things return to normal and we are able to open our
casinos again.

The new Otoe-Missouria compact provides a lower rate than we are currently paying for our
Class III machines. The term is not limited to 15 years. It also allows for house banked card and
table games. Sports Book will be available. There are opportunities for expanded gaming in the
future.

While we do believe the current compact auto-renewed at the end of 2019 for another 15
years, we chose to sit down with the Governor and his team to discuss what his ideas were for a
new or amended compact. After weeks of productive negotiations, the result is the compact
agreement that was reached that we feel is a definite win/win for the Otoe-Missouria Tribe and
the State of Oklahoma. Most importantly, we have a stable foundation for the Otoe-Missouria
Tribe that is not limited to the next 15 years with clear dispute resolution parameters moving
forward.

Otoe-Missouria Tribe Chairman John R. Shotton

Here is a link to the Comanche Nation’s tribal compact.

Stitt says he wants to continue to negotiate with the other tribes to reach their own agreements.

Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association Chairman Matthew L. Morgan says that tribal leaders are reviewing the documents.

“We respect the sovereignty of each Tribe to take what actions it believes it must on behalf of its citizens. All the same, Governor Stitt does not have the authority to do what he claims to have done today. Without the engagement of the Oklahoma Legislature, he has entered agreements based on a claim of unilateral State authority to legalize sportsbook, to revamp the Oklahoma Lottery, and to authorize new gaming facilities in Norman and Stillwater, among other places. That’s simply not the law.

I expect Tribal and State officials are now reviewing the documents he released today and trying to understand what exactly it is Governor Stitt is trying to do. But at the end of the day, I suspect his actions have not helped matters for anyone.”

Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association Chairman Matthew L. Morgan

Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter says that although the governor contends that the newly signed compacts are legal, they are not authorized by the state’s Tribal Gaming Act.

“The agreements signed today between the governor, the Otoe-Missouria Tribe and the Comanche Nation are not authorized by the state Tribal Gaming Act, Title 3A, Section 261 et. sec. The governor has the authority to negotiate compacts with the tribes on behalf of the state. However, only gaming activities authorized by the act may be the subject of a tribal gaming compact. Sports betting is not a prescribed ‘covered game’ under the act,” Attorney General Mike Hunter said in a statement.

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