Stitt seeks clarification on Oklahoma Supreme Court gaming compact ruling

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OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – Following a ruling by the Oklahoma Supreme Court over a couple of gaming compacts, Governor Kevin Stitt is asking for a rehearing.

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

Image by Bruno /Germany from Pixabay
Image by Bruno /Germany from Pixabay

Immediately, tribal attorneys were 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 late April, Stitt told lawmakers that he received “numerous, exceptional legal opinions throughout this process” regarding the legal status of the compacts.

However, Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter said the governor lacks the authority to enter into and bind the state to compacts with Native American tribes that authorize gaming activities that are prohibited by state law.

Casino floor
A woman gambles at the Montecasino leisure and casino complex in Johannesburg, on July 3, 2020. (Photo by Michele Spatari / AFP) (Photo by MICHELE SPATARI/AFP via Getty Images)

In June, the U.S. Department of the Interior announced that it approved the compacts, meaning they are legal in Oklahoma.

Although the Department of the Interior issued its ruling, state lawmakers said the fight wasn’t over.

Senate Pro Tempore Greg Treat and House Speaker Charles McCall sued Gov. Stitt because they say he doesn’t have the authority to agree to those compacts.  

House Speaker McCall with  Senate Pro Tem Schultz in the background.
House Speaker McCall

“Petitioners ask this court to declare the Governor’s actions unauthorized by law and the agreements void,” Attorney Cara Rodriguez said during oral arguments in front of the Oklahoma Supreme Court.

The lawsuit argued that not only does Stitt not have the power to make compacts on his own, without approval from the Legislature, but the agreements include forms of gambling that are not legal in Oklahoma. 

Stitt’s attorney argued that not only does the governor have that power, but he’s that only one that does.  

“The governor is the only actor vested with the authority to enter into gaming compacts with Indian tribes in Oklahoma,” Attorney Phillip Whaley said.

Gov. Stitt holds a news conference about compact negotiations.
Gov. Stitt holds a news conference about compact negotiations.

The lawsuit contended that the governor can negotiate compacts on behalf of the state, but negotiating is not the same as agreeing to a deal.  

“Nothing prevents the governor from going to a tribe and talking, and reaching maybe even a tentative agreement,” State Solicitor General Mithun Mansinghani told KFOR. “But he can not bind the state compacts, contrary to enacted public policy of the state.”

In late July, the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled in favor of state lawmakers, agreeing that Gov. Stitt lacks the authority to agree to the compacts.

“The limited question before this Court is whether Governor Stitt had the authority to bind the State with respect to the new tribal gaming compacts with the Comanche Nation and Otoe-Missouria Tribes. We hold he did not,” the Court wrote. “This question implicates the core notion of our constitutional structure: separation of powers. The legislative branch sets the public policy of the State by enacting law not in conflict with the Constitution. The Governor has a role in setting that policy through his function in the legislative process, but the Governor’s primary role is in the faithful execution of the law.”

Oklahoma Supreme Court

The Court ruled that the governor can negotiate tribal gaming compacts but he must negotiate within the bounds of the State-Tribal Gaming Act. Since the compacts approved certain types of gaming that are considered illegal in Oklahoma, the compacts are prohibited by the law.

“The Supreme Court decision highlights an apparent conflict between the federal law and our state laws. Oklahoma must address the entire gaming framework to ensure that all federally recognized Tribes can legally game and enjoy all the privileges conferred by IGRA. Together with the McGirt decision, it’s clear that the State has significant work to do – in partnership with the Tribes – to resolve these matters. I look forward to doing the hard work for the benefit of all Oklahomans, and to ensure a sustainable future for our State.” -Governor Kevin Stitt 

OKLAHOMA GOVERNOR KEVIN STITT

Now, Gov. Stitt is asking for a rehearing, asking for clarification on the ruling.

According to the Purcell Register, the governor is seeking clarification on whether the area of the compacts that allowed sports betting could be severed from the rest of the compact.

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