OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – As the dispute over tribal gaming compacts moves to a higher court, state leaders say they are getting prepared for a legal fight.
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 was set to expire on Jan. 1, Gov. Kevin Stitt sent a letter to 35 tribal leaders saying it was time to renegotiate the terms of the agreement.
However, the tribes have contended the compact automatically renews if new agreements aren’t reached.
The issue at hand seems to be the wording of Part 15 B. of the compact.
The compact's Part 15 B. states, "This Compact shall have a term which will expire on January 1, 2020, and at that time, if organization licensees or others are authorized to conduct electronic gaming in any form other than pari-mutuel wagering on live horse racing pursuant to any governmental action of the state or court order following the effective date of this Compact, the Compact shall automatically renew for successive additional fifteen-year terms."
Although the tribes have said the automatic renewal is inevitable, Stitt says that without action, Class III gaming would be illegal in Oklahoma.
"We do not want gaming to be illegal, and we do not want vendors to be operating illegally," Stitt said last month.
On Tuesday, officials announced that the Cherokee, Chickasaw, and Choctaw Nations filed a federal lawsuit "to bring an end to the uncertainty Oklahoma Governor J. Kevin Stitt has attempted to cast over Tribal gaming operations."
The lawsuit seeks a judicial declaration that the gaming compacts renew.
Now, Stitt says the state has retained a law firm to argue his opinion in court.
“With Perkins Coie, the State of Oklahoma is well-positioned to work towards a compact that protects core public services and advances the future of our great state, its four million residents, and gaming tribes. Perkins Coie will also respond to and address the Chickasaw, Cherokee, and Choctaw Nations’ federal lawsuit filed on New Year’s Eve. The legal experts at Perkins Coie have successfully represented other states in Indian law controversies, to include the State of New Mexico’s compact dispute in 2015,” said Gov. Kevin Stitt.
Officials with the governor's office said the firm has extensive litigation experience, including successfully challenging federal regulations involving a tribe and the State of New Mexico.