Stitt responds to concerns about legality of new tribal gaming compacts

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OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – After concerns were raised about the legality of signing new tribal gaming compacts with two Native American tribes, Governor Kevin Stitt sent a letter to the Oklahoma Legislature to continue to defend his decision.

Last week, Gov. Stitt announced that the state had reached new deals with the Otoe-Missouria and Comanche tribes. The compacts call for lower exclusivity fees, sports betting, and new casinos closer to larger cities.

Shortly after the announcement, Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter said the pacts, especially regarding sports betting, were not authorized under the State 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

At the same time, tribal attorneys were also split over the legality of the compacts. Since sports betting is not legal in Oklahoma, they say it cannot be used as a bargaining chip without being passed by the Legislature.

“Tribes can do what is legal in the state so if those games aren’t legal in the state that poses a threshold problem,” said Kirke Kickingbird, tribal law attorney.

Lawmakers at the Oklahoma State Capitol also expressed concerns about the legality of the move.

In a letter to Gov. Stitt, lawmakers said the compacts were “unauthorized by law and void without action by the Oklahoma Legislature.” It went on to say that the actions are a “unilateral attempt… to make legal that which is not legal… and to exercise power that belongs solely to the legislative branch.”

This weekend, Stitt responded with a letter of his own.

In his letter to leaders of the Oklahoma House of Representatives and the Oklahoma State Senate, Stitt says that he received “numerous, exceptional legal opinions throughout this process” regarding the legal status of the compacts.

“As your letter correctly notes, ‘the Oklahoma Constitution vests the Governor with power to ‘conduct intercourse and business with the other states and the United States.’ Contrary to the position expressed in your letter, this constitutional authority vests solely in the Office of the Governor. And while the power is exercised via statute, it is unquestionably the case that ‘any requirement that individual agreements or compacts negotiated by the Governor on behalf of the State with other sovereigns, such as Indian tribes, be approved by the Legislature would violate the principles of separation of powers.’ Oklahoma Attorney General Op. No. 2004 OK AG 27 (Aug. 26, 2004) Accordingly, the statements and conclusions drawn in the letter are legally infirm,” he wrote.

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