Federal judge sides with tribes, gaming compacts renew for 15 years

Oklahoma Gaming

OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – After a year of back and forth between Governor Stitt and the tribes over the gaming compacts, the battle appears to be over. 

A federal judge siding with the tribes, saying the compacts do auto renew for another 15 years. 

Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association Chairman Matthew Morgan says he’s sad it took so long to get to this point, but he’s hopeful both sides can move forward.  

“I think the path forward has been clear all along. Governor Stitt may not like the path, but that is the path,” Morgan told News 4. “I think the path has shown to be productive over the last decade.”

The governor spent $1.5 million in tax payer money, arguing the licenses issued to Remington Park and Will Rogers Downs from the Oklahoma Horse Racing Commission didn’t count towards auto renewal because it wasn’t actually authorization from the state legislature. 

The judge didn’t agree.  

“It only asked whether the gaming compact automatically renewed. The judge came back and said, I read what the compact says, and yes it does,” Morgan said. “The state met its burden to trigger that automatic renewal. That is all.”

In response to the decision, Governor Stitt sent out this statement”

“I am deeply disappointed by the federal court’s ruling. It confirms my fears, and the fears of many fellow Oklahomans, that the State entered into a poorly negotiated deal and now we must bear the cost of this mistake. The federal court determined that the 2004 Gaming Compact autorenewed for 15 years because of an action taken by an agency’s unelected board to reissue licenses for gaming at horse racing tracks. This decision, coupled with the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling on McGirt, means Oklahomans have important questions to face regarding our future. Among other things, we will need to explore the challenges of who will pay taxes and who won’t, of how we will guarantee a competitive marketplace, and of how the State will fund core public services into the next generation. In short, we face a question of constitutional proportions about what it means to be the state of Oklahoma and how we regulate and oversee all business in our state. 
When I came into office, I inherited letters from tribes saying the compacts were set to expire on January 1, 2020. In my first six months, I traveled across the state listening to tribal leaders and to leaders from many sectors of Oklahoma’s economy about these compacts. What I heard and what I learned is that only a few tribes were receiving most of the benefit from gaming; the one-size-fits-all approach to the Model Gaming Compact was clearly broken. As your Governor, I was driven by a conviction that we could look to the future and generate new, sustainable opportunities for the next generation of Oklahomans.
As the State began its efforts to renegotiate, the 2004 Gaming Compact continued to prove its shortcomings were much deeper. Judge DeGuisti’s decision to send the State and the tribes to court-ordered mediation was right and it was fruitful. It brought differing tribal voices to the table that historically were cut out from these conversations. It resulted in new gaming compacts, affirmed by the U.S. Department of Interior, and it showed Oklahoma what could be possible with a fresh slate. 
The new gaming compacts demonstrate the State could offer unique, thoughtful opportunities for each tribe. In turn, the State could achieve fair-market rates, as high as 13%, for Class III gaming operations, and we could establish clear auditing and transparency measures to protect the integrity of the compact and ensure the trust of all Oklahoma citizens. Our new gaming compacts show when the State and Tribes are at the table together, we can achieve better public policy and healthier relationships. We could create gaming compacts that level the playing field for all Oklahoma job creators and spur hundreds of millions of dollars more in revenue for our public schools.
As we move forward, I will continue to hold fast to my commitment as your Governor to work with all Oklahomans on Top Ten solutions that deliver a stronger, more prosperous future for our state.”

Governor Kevin Stitt

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