Tribal leaders standing strong against higher gaming fees

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DURANT, Okla. – A situation between state and tribal leaders is becoming tense as both sides argue about higher gaming fees.

Currently, Native American tribes pay the state more than $140 million a year in gaming exclusivity fees from casinos. However, 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 6 percent goes back to the state in exclusivity fees.

Since the 15-year deal between the state and the tribes is set to expire in January, Stitt recently sent a letter to 35 tribal leaders saying it is time to renegotiate the terms of the agreement.

Kirke Kickingbird is a tribal law expert who helped negotiate the original agreement in 2005.

“They are having trouble managing money and they want to find other sources,” Kickingbird told News 4.

Kickingbird says the current fee would be plenty if the state would move games closer to Vegas-style gambling.

“The tribe would get their percentage and the state would get their percentage as well,” said Kickingbird.

Stephen Greentham, senior legal counsel for the Chickasaw Nation, told KTEN that the governor can renegotiate, but cannot legally tax the tribes outside of the compact.

“If Gov. Kevin Stitt says, ‘I want to renegotiate the rate,’ then OK, make a proposal,” said Greentham. “But if Gov. Stitt says, ‘I want to toss the whole thing out and start from scratch,’ then he can’t do that.”

Recently, Gov. Kevin Stitt said the percentage tribes pay is well below the national average of 20 to 25 percent.

“His position, so far, does not appear to be informed by the actual facts of state tribal gaming,” Greentham said. “If one were to look at what the majority of compacts have, about 56 percent of the compacts have a rate under 10 percent.”

Officials say they have six months to come to an agreement.

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