Tribes unify against gaming compact deadline set by Stitt

BY D. SEAN ROWLEY
Senior Reporter
12/20/2019 08:30 AM
Main Cherokee Phoenix
Muscogee (Creek) Nation Principal Chief James Floyd, speaking, and Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr., right of Floyd, were among the tribal leaders who voiced solidarity concerning the tribal gaming compact on Dec. 19 at the River Spirit Casino and Resort in Tulsa. D. SEAN ROWLEY/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
Main Cherokee Phoenix
Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. said the tribes await a “realistic and reasonable proposal” from Gov. Kevin Stitt during a Dec 19 press conference regarding the tribal gaming compact at the River Spirit Casino and Result in Tulsa. D. SEAN ROWLEY/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
TULSA – With media from around the state attending, leaders from more than 30 Native American tribes in Oklahoma formally announced on Dec. 19 their unified stance on the insistence by Gov. Kevin Stitt that the gaming compact between the tribes and the state will expire and must be renegotiated.

The tribes’ emphatic response was that the compact, which governs gaming revenues allotted to the state and guarantees the tribes exclusive gaming rights, renews automatically on Jan. 1. The news conference was held inside the Muscogee (Creek) Nation’s River Spirit Casino and Resort.

Since Stitt announced that he believes the compact must be renegotiated, several tribes have indicated that the exclusivity fees are not off limits. The biggest snag has been the governor setting deadlines. At the news conference, the tribes said they would not negotiate under duress.

“We stand united in accepting a realistic and reasonable proposal from Gov. Stitt,” Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. said. “We will be prepared to talk about ideas such as exclusivity fees and rates…. But it will be a discussion that delivers value for value to the tribes and the state. It will continue to be win-win.”

Prepared statements were delivered by seven tribal officials, including Hoskin, in front of dozens of tribal representatives and media members from across the state.

“(Automatic renewal) is the law,” Hoskin said. “It is the compact. It is a compact born of the support of an overwhelming majority of citizens of the state of Oklahoma – 60 percent of the voters approved it…. The compact works. It is not broke, and it will continue to work for many years to come, and it will continue Jan. 1, 2020.”

If the two sides remain at odds, the dispute will likely be deposited in federal court. Several tribes, including the Cherokee Nation, have said they are ready for a legal fight.

“We stand prepared for an unfortunate lengthy legal battle with Gov. Stitt,” Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association Chairman Matthew Morgan said. “We cannot describe the damage this could cause for the state and the state’s business reputation.”

Stitt released a statement on Dec. 19 stating: “I am disappointed that the tribes turned our offer down and refused our requests to negotiate new compact terms that better address the parties’ changing needs. I will continue to work to protect the state’s interests, and I hope that those running the casino industry will negotiate with the state in good faith as these compacts demand.”

As part of the joint announcements, and during a question-and-answer session, tribal officials pointed to the economic impact of tribal gaming – such as funds for schools, roads and water systems – and said it would be diminished if tribal exclusivity was dissolved.

“For some reason or another, someone told us in some type of negotiation that (Stitt) is speaking on behalf of Oklahoma citizens,” William Nelson Sr., chairman of the Comanche Nation, said. “We are Oklahoma citizens…. We are part of reciprocating money back to Oklahoma. We are not part of an outside venture.”

On Dec. 5, Stitt attempted to apply a year-end time limit to renegotiate the tribal gaming compact. He said on Dec. 17 that he would talk directly with the tribes to renegotiate the compacts and that there would be an extension of the deadline to Aug. 31, with no amendment to the part of the compact that addresses talks and renewals. The tribes have repeatedly refused to acknowledge any deadline.

Under the active compact, tribes in Oklahoma receive exclusive rights to casino gaming in the state in return for giving the state a cut of the revenue, generally ranging from 4% to 10%. Stitt has suggested Oklahoma tribes pay rates as high as 25%, pointing to other states where tribes pay a higher percentage for gaming rights.
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