Legal status of gaming compacts in question as battle between governor, tribes continues

Oklahoma Gaming
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OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – As the battle between Governor Stitt and certain tribes over Indian gaming continues to rage, two new gaming compacts have been signed, but the Attorney General for the state of Oklahoma says they are not entirely legal.

It’s not just the AG and the Governor that disagree, tribal attorneys are also split on the legalities of the two new gaming compacts.

“The state is announcing that we have reached two agreements of new gaming compacts,” said Gov. Kevin Stitt.

On Monday, the Governor announced 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 and towns.

But shortly after the announcement, Attorney General Mike Hunter released this statement saying the pacts, specifically the sports betting part, 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

On Tuesday the Governor’s office coming back with a statement of its own, saying it was confident the pacts comply with state and federal laws..

“A number of legal experts thoroughly researched and considered the interpretation of federal law for negotiating Events Wagering, and the interpretation of State law regarding the authority and role of the Governor to compact with Tribes. They are confident in the Governor’s authority and the validity of the compacts, under both state and federal law, and are focused on the momentum established by the new gaming compacts, which usher in a bright future for Oklahoma’s gaming market, leave behind the one-size-fits-all approach to the old Model Gaming compact, and expands opportunity for all parties for generations to come.”

Baylee Lakey, Communications Director

Now, tribal attorneys disagree on the interpretation of the gaming laws when it come to the new compacts.

“The question is will they comply with both state and federal law,” said Kirke Kickingbird

The Tribal law attorney says he is concerned that sports betting is not currently legal and would have to be 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 Kickingbird.

The Tribal law attorney who represents both tribes involved says this doesn’t change anything.

“From the tribes perspectives, we’re fine with either view,” said Rob Rosette.

He says even if the sports betting doesn’t become legal, the Otoe Missouria and Comanches are now paying less in exclusivity fees.

“This is a very very good position these tribes have put themselves in, they were not duped at all,” said Rosette

“If you going to sign something and the Governor of the State says he supports it, you are going to believe him,” said Reggie Wassana.

The Governor of the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes says he was shocked that the two tribes decided to negotiate new deals when they were part of the lawsuit against the Governor, but he understands both got better deals.

“You have to do what is best for your tribe. Whenever we get to the table and that time goes we are going try to put ourselves in that best position too,” said Wassana.

Both attorneys agree tribes can legally establish new casinos closer to bigger cities and not on traditional tribal land if the State signs off on it.

The Otoe-Missouria Tribe Chairman John R. Shooton and Comanche Nation Chairman William Nelson, Sr. released the following statement:

“We respect the Governor and the Attorney General, who both have a track record of supporting tribal sovereignty.  We believe the compact language is consistent with both positions as it says event wagering will be permitted only ‘to the extent such wagers are authorized by law.’ We remain focused on the momentum established with new gaming compacts that anticipate the future of the gaming market, expand opportunity for all parties for generations to come and leave behind the one-size-fits-all approach to the old Model Gaming compact.

In other words, so long as such wagering is unlawful, the Otoe-Missouria and Comanche Nation would not be permitted to engage in such gaming under the express language of the compacts.   Although state law currently does not authorize event wagering, the compacts nonetheless included such language in anticipation that the state legislature will eventually see event wagering as an important source of revenue, and authorize the activity accordingly. There is absolutely nothing unlawful about entering into a compact that guides the parties’ behavior and expectations in contemplation of potential future events. In fact, the 2005 compacts also contained provisions that would authorize new forms of gaming in the event that such gaming would be ‘approved by state legislation for use by any person or entity.’ The event wagering provisions of the new compacts are fully consistent with the language of the 2005 compacts.”

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