OK AG: Gaming exclusivity fees can’t be put in escrow

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OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – Senate Appropriations Chair Roger Thompson asked Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter his opinion as to whether Gov. Kevin Stitt could deposit state revenues from tribal gaming exclusivity fees in escrow, and today the AG said no.

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.

Last year, Gov. Kevin Stitt sent a letter to 35 tribal leaders saying it was time to renegotiate the terms of the agreement.

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

When an agreement wasn’t reached, several tribes filed a federal lawsuit against Stitt. They said they wanted a federal judge to decide where to go from here.

While awaiting the outcome of federal litigation over gaming compacts between the state and tribes, the governor wished for the fees to go into escrow.

Hunter responded to Thompson’s request for a legal opinion on Monday and said it is his legal opinion that it is not legally advisable.

“As Appropriations Chair, I am tasked with writing a budget.  If the governor were allowed to escrow these funds, it would mean about an $11 million a month hit to the 1017 Fund, so it would be an $11 million deficit to the schools each month. The first payment was due in on March the 10th, so I’m glad the Attorney General issued the opinion today. This does not wade into the legal argument between the governor and the tribes of who’s right and who’s wrong. It just says we’re going to use this money for the intended purpose, and that’s to fund education.”

Senate Appropriations Chair Roger Thompson

Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association Chairman Matthew L. Morgan also responded to the opinion from Hunter.

“We are pleased today’s AG opinion makes it clear money from our exclusivity fees will continue to flow smoothly to public school districts across our state as outlined in the renewed compact. The Tribes will continue fulfilling our responsibilities as described in the renewed compact.   We are also united in our support for Oklahoma’s public education system and pleased the vast majority of the exclusivity fees go toward helping public school districts across our state.   Public school districts depend on the money from our exclusivity fees, particularly rural schools.  The Tribes will continue to remit exclusivity fees, and we are pleased public school districts will continue to receive their payments from the state in a timely fashion.”

Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association Chairman Matthew L. Morgan

Statement from Governor Kevin Stitt on today’s opinion by Attorney General Mike Hunter that accepting exclusivity fees and depositing them in education fund does not jeopardize the state’s legal position regarding gaming compacts:

“I am grateful the attorney general has agreed there is a way to protect public education funding without jeopardizing the legal position of the state. It is important that our schools not be caught in the middle while we work toward a long-term solution.”

Governor Kevin Stitt

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