OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR)- The Governor has requested legislative approval on two tribal gaming compacts that were shot down by the state’s highest court three years ago.
Governor Kevin Stitt sent letters to the Joint Committee on State-Tribal Relations, Senate President Pro Tempore Greg Treat and House Speaker Charles McCall on September 14.
The two tribal gaming compacts involve United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians (UKB) and Kialegee Tribal Town (KTT).
“I’m proud of the compacts Chief Bunch, Mekko Yahola and I negotiated for Oklahoma, the UKB and the KTT,” said Governor Stitt. “These compacts are better for all Oklahomans, requiring a higher percentage of gaming revenue to be remanded to the state while opening up this industry to the UKB and the KTT. Additionally, these compacts reflect our good faith efforts and demonstrates our ability and willingness reach agreements with tribes. I look forward to continued collaboration with our tribal partners and I call on the Joint Committee to convene and promptly endorse the compact.”
Neither tribe is currently a member of the Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association (OIGA), but these compacts give the UKB and KTT access to the gaming market that wasn’t previously available to them, according to the Governor’s Office.
Tribes are not required to be part of the OIGA. There are currently 25 tribal gaming compacts in Oklahoma, but only 25 tribes are OIGA members.
A UKB tribal representative told News 4 on Thursday, “The UKB for decades operated a casino, our primary funding source, that was shut down due to legal action brought about by the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma. Since then we’ve explored other gaming opportunities, and continue to do so, so that we are able to provide critical services to our tribal members.”
The KTT also appears to not operate a casino.
News 4 called KTT and left a voicemail, but did not hear back prior to publication.
The two tribal gaming compacts Governor Stitt presented would provide the state with more revenue.
The model gaming compact declares exclusivity fees to fall between 4% and 10%.
The two compacts the Governor has presented put the exclusivity fees between 12% and 15%.
“They are better deals for all Oklahomans. Governor Stitt worked with leaders of the UKB and KTT tribes to negotiate these compacts and reach deals that gave them access to the gaming industry while providing reasonable revenues to the state,” said the Governor’s Communications Director, Abegail Cave.
The compacts Governor Stitt has sent to legislators are identical to those presented in 2020, according to the Governor’s Office. At the bottom of both compacts show signatures still dated three years ago.
“The Oklahoma Supreme Court would have—and still would—find them to be valid once the Joint Committee convenes and approves them, as requested by Governor Stitt, Chief Bunch and Mekko Yahola,” said Cave. “The only reason it had to go to the Joint Committee was because it differed from the model compact. If it was the same as the model compact, there would be no need for it to go to the committee.”
The Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association Chairman, Matthew Morgan told KFOR he was disappointed in the compacts from 2020, and now hearing the compacts are identical, he remains disappointed.
“I think initially when this was done back in 2020, we were a little disappointed. From a legal perspective, while those two tribes have never been members, you know, we do have a model compact that we have been offered from the state to tribes back in 2004. We always thought it was a viable,” stated Morgan.
Morgan added the Governor cutting a different deal than what the state has pushed is not something he agrees with.
“Their fees are higher. There was also some mention of some games in the earlier ones that are not allowed under the model compact. In addition, some fees to trust benefits he was pre-approving on behalf of these tribes. I understand why they liked it. But it was against the model compact. Ultimately the Oklahoma Supreme Court found those documents to be illegal,” stated Morgan.
He added he understands each tribe has to look out for their best interests, but he feels as if the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled on a crystal clear decision.
“If it’s still the same document from 2020, those documents were found illegal. There’s no way you can revive them by sending them to the legislature, as the courts have already ruled on their legality. We continue to be disappointed in Governor Stitt’s actions. We don’t think from our perspective that a lot of the things we worked with the state on are difficult. There’s a path that’s been clearly delineated through tribal and state relations, and he fails to uphold what we’ve seen as traditionally been the path. I understand that he’s always claiming to want to do something different, but it comes off as disrespectful to tribal leaders in the way that he’s acting.”Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association Chairman, Matthew Morgan
Native American law attorney, Robert Gifford said the state is able to negotiate different terms that stray from the Model Gaming Compact.
“The gaming compact is basically a guideline, so there is flexibility there. It’d be sort of like a housing contract. You have a sample housing contract that generally everybody uses, but it does not mean it can’t be modified. It still has to follow the law,” stated Gifford.
Based on Gifford’s interpretation of the compacts, he doesn’t see anything illegal.
Due to the nature of gambling, there is always some argument that can be made such as public policy or infringement of the sovereignty of other tribes, according to Gifford. In other words, he said he could see these compacts going back to court.
“I would anticipate there’s going to be challenges no matter what. This is a very highly controversial issue,” he said.
Gifford did say he also believes the modified compacts is both a strategic and political move by the Governor.
“By the Governor negotiating with the tribes and getting this through the legislature and if they do get approved, is demonstrating that there is a higher yield being returned to the state, which is one of the things the Governor was trying to do with the rest of the tribes. Now, of course, what the Governor wanted to do was strike all the compacts together and start all over. It might be an attempt by the Governor to divide and conquer,” he explained.
The OIGA will not step in, according to Morgan.
“As an association, we’re not involved in it. But we always hope the rule of law is followed and we feel like this matter was settled by the Oklahoma Supreme Court during its Treat I and Treat II hearings,” said Morgan.
KFOR has previously reached out to the Attorney General’s Office for his legal opinion and we were told “Attorney General Drummond will review the compacts and other relevant information to determine their legitimacy before making any comment.” On Thursday, his office said they are working on an updated statement.
The Senate President Pro Tempore’s Office told us last week “We were made aware of the existence of the compacts in conjunction with the press release being sent. We are reviewing them and communicating with the attorney general to see how these differ from the previous compacts that were ruled unconstitutional.”
On Wednesday, his office said they are awaiting more information from the Attorney General’s Office before making further comment.
News 4 asked the Governor’s Office about additional conversations with tribes about the car tag compact and tobacco compact.
“As you know, the Governor has challenged the legislature’s actions. We anticipate the Supreme Court will soon decide whether the legislature, after having clearly delegated to the Governor the authority to negotiate tobacco and motor vehicle compacts, is somehow still able to negotiate, amend, and extend compacts.
Regarding communications, the Choctaw Nation never responded to the Governor’s offer to extend the tobacco compact scheduled to expire at yearend. There have been communications between our office and the Chickasaw Nation, which indicated they also seem to be representing the interests of other unnamed tribes. The Governor’s Office remains committed to spending all the time necessary at any point to negotiate fair, long-term compacts. That commitment has been shared with the Chickasaw Nation.”The Office of the Governor Communications Director, Abegail Cave.