State hires outside firm for tribal gaming negotiations

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OKLAHOMA CITY - The looming fight over the tribal gaming compact continues to escalate.

The Oklahoma Attorney General's Office announced that it has hired an out-of-state law firm to help with the upcoming negotiations. Now, tribal leaders wonder when those negotiations will actually begin.

Back in July, News 4 learned about a letter Governor Kevin Stitt sent to tribal leaders saying he wanted to renegotiate the percent of gaming revenue the tribes pay back to the state in order to be the only entities allowed to legally gamble.

The governor said he wanted to start having serious talks in September. So far, reportedly no talks have taken place. Now, we're learning a Michigan law firm has been brought in to help the attorney general's office.

"We didn't see quite why it's needed, particularly when we saw the $250,000 retainer fee," said Kirke Kickingbird, a tribal law attorney for Hobbs Straus.

Kickingbird is talking about the announcement that Michigan law firm Dykema Gossett has been contracted, with a quarter-million-dollar retainer fee, to consult the state as it attempts to renegotiate gaming contracts.

A statement from the Oklahoma Attorney General's Office said, in part, "When dealing with issues as complex as compact negotiations, it is important to have experts with experience in this area. Dykema has a proven record of success in tribal compact and gaming negotiations. We believe with their help, we can achieve a successful outcome for both the state and our tribal partners."

"We feel that when he goes out-of-state to spend taxpayers' money, it isn't the right thing to do," said Cheyenne Arapaho Tribes Governor Reggie Wassana.

"If the governor would deal with the tribes on a partnership status, not treat the tribes like children, he would probably be able to get more accomplished with this compact," Wassana added.

The tribes are still holding to their stance that the wording of the contracts means the compacts automatically renew January 1, even if a new agreement is not reached.

So far, no face-to-face talks have been reported by the governor's office or tribal leaders.

"There was a vague reference to trying to get the tribes a proposal by September, but we are halfway through and it's getting pretty late. We don't know if [Stitt] is serious or not about these negotiations," said Kickingbird.

News 4 reached out to the governor's office. They sent back a statement, saying, "The Attorney General's office is currently the lead on compact negotiations, and the Governor's Office defers all questions to the AG's office at this time."

As the tribes wait to hear from the governor, they have kicked off a statewide PR campaign to educate the public on how they say the tribes help the state.

"Either we wait for the cows to come home or we kick the horse out of the barn. One of the two because we ain't getting anywhere other than form letters and he said, she said, and that's not going to get those negotiations anywhere down the road," said Wassana.

Tribal attorneys say the outside firm hire could be a step toward a million-dollar court battle over the compact language. Governor Wassana says any renegotiation of the percentage payback by casinos would hurt his tribes and the state.

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