OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) - Tribes across the state are taking a stand on the first day of the new year, keeping casinos up and running despite a warning from the governor that in January, the gambling would be illegal.
The 15-year gaming contract was scheduled to expire, and for months now, Governor Stitt told tribal leaders statewide that it’s time to renegotiate the deal. The tribes disagree, contending the compact automatically renews.
The governor warned that if they didn’t negotiate a new deal, Class 3 gaming would no longer be allowed.
Former attorney general Drew Edmondson said many people he knows of agree with the tribes in their reading of the contract. He said he didn’t know what the recourse would be if it turns out the casinos are operating illegally.
“Of they’re not legal, is the state would have trouble accepting the revenue from them, so it’s really in the state’s interest to have those operations continue in effect.”
“It’s all relatively new territory,” said Edmondson, “but it’s a course that needs to be explored and done carefully with a recognition that the state is sovereign, but so are the tribes. They are sovereign, and when there is a disagreement between the two, federal courts become the arbiters.”
That will be the case now that the Cherokee, Choctaw, and Chickasaw Nations filed a federal lawsuit against Stitt earlier this week.
One thing Edmondson said he believes will come up in litigation is Stitt’s intention to audit the casinos.
“There are items in the compact that give the state the authority to examine the machines, to review the audits that have been done. The question is whether that can be extrapolated into the authority to audit themselves, and that’s where the tribes are saying, no it doesn’t go that far,” Edmondson said.
The expiration of the compact came up during the 2018 election for Oklahoma governor when both Stitt and Edmondson were running against each other.
“We both talked about the compacts coming up and renegotiating the terms and doing things to benefit both the state and the tribes, so we both would have been headed that direction,” Edmondson said. “I think it’s unfortunate that all of this came up in governor Stitt’s first year in office. I think if he’d had a couple of years under his belt and dealt with the tribes a little bit more that it might have been done more gracefully.”
The Governor's office did not respond to KFOR's request for comment.