OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter confirms with KFOR that he will be turning the gaming compacts dispute over to the Governor.
Hunter’s office released the following statement:
“Under Article VI, Section 8 of the Oklahoma Constitution and 74.0.S. S1221, the governor is given authority to enter into agreements with the federally recognized tribes. Accordingly, the attorney general and the governor have agreed to return the lead agency over tribal gaming compact negotiations to the Governor’s Office. This will allow the governor and his legal counsel to negotiate directly with tribes to hopefully develop a path forward.”
Hunter himself released the following statement that he sent to the governor’s office:
“Pursuant to our recent conversations, I am withdrawing from further participation in the tribal gaming compact negotiations. I look forward to and am committed to working with you in the future on any and all matters within my purview as chief legal officer of the State of Oklahoma.”
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.
Since the 15-year deal between the state and the tribes is set to expire in January, Gov. Kevin Stitt recently sent a letter to 35 tribal leaders saying it is time to renegotiate the terms of the agreement.
Stitt says that since July, he has been working to renegotiate the compact but hasn’t gotten any closer to a deal.
“They have refused to communicate with me,” he said.
The tribes have contended the compact automatically renews if new agreements aren’t reached, but the governor disagrees.
“This compact was signed 15 years ago and the fact is that it expires on January 1, 2020. This is going to cause extreme uncertainty if we don’t renegotiate by January 2020,” he said.
However, officials with the Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association say the governor is misinformed.
Stephen Greetham, senior counsel for the Chickasaw Nation, said Stitt didn’t mention the paragraph of the clause that talks about the compact renewing automatically.
“The compact renews. There’s no reasonable argument that it doesn’t,” said Greetham.
When it comes to comparing compacts in other states, Matthew Morgan, chairman of the Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association, argues that the other states are in entirely different situations.
While most states have a compact agreement with a handful of tribes, Oklahoma has 35 tribes participating in the agreement.
Greetham adds that 92% of the other compacts in the country are similar to Oklahoma’s rate, and says Oklahoma is receiving more than $400 per citizen from the current compact.
“No other state pulls in numbers like that,” he said.