Stitt reportedly using funds from gaming to pay law firm
OKLAHOMA CITY – In response to the Cherokee, Choctaw and Chickasaw nations filing a lawsuit to determine whether the casino gaming compact with the state has renewed, Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt is reportedly using funds generated by tribal gaming to hire a law firm for his defense.
On Jan. 3, Stitt announced he had hired the Perkins Cole firm in Seattle to represent him in the legal dispute. Stitt contends that the tribal gaming compact expired on Jan. 1 and must be renegotiated. The tribes say the agreement automatically renewed, and that the governor and tribes must both agree to renegotiation.
Under the compact, gaming tribes pay the state 4% to 10 % of revenue to exclusively offer Class III gaming, which includes slot machines, craps and roulette.
The nations’ lawsuit calls for a federal court to declare the legal effect of the compact’s Part 15.B., which 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.”
A spokeswoman for Stitt said as much as $300,000 could be used to pay Perkins Cole.
Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. repeatedly stated that Cherokee Nation Businesses’ casinos would remain open after Stitt’s year-end deadline.
In a symbolic gesture and with local media in attendance, Hoskin pulled the lever on a slot machine during the first few seconds of Jan. 1 – though Stitt had claimed Class III gaming illegal without a new compact.
“We’re asking a federal judge to answer the question, does the compact renew,” Hoskin said. “We believe it renews, outside observers believe it renews, every tribal leader in the state believes it renews. The governor does not. And that’s why we had to go into federal court.”
The United Keetoowah Band in Tahlequah, along with the Kialegee Tribal Town in Wetumka, signed an eight-month compact extension and will continue to negotiate with the governor’s office, though neither tribe currently operates any casinos.
“After much discussion, it was decided to sign in an effort to avoid a battle with the state over the legality of gaming as we look forward to establishing economic development opportunities in the coming year,” said UKB Chief Joe Bunch. “We have not taken any actions opposing the decisions of other tribes to seek legal clarification on whether the compact automatically renews. Our signing acknowledges that there are differences in opinion on this matter between the tribes and the state. Until the matter is sorted, we simply wish to maintain good relations with the state as we work to improve our tribe’s economic status.”
On Dec. 23, Stitt was handed the resignation letter of Secretary of Native American Affairs Lisa J. Billy. She resigned over the gaming compact controversy.
Billy wrote that “…it has become increasingly clear you are committed to an unnecessary conflict that poses a real risk of lasting damage to the State-Tribal relationship and to our economy. You have dismissed advice and facts that show the peril of your chosen approach and have remained intent on breaking faith with the Tribes, both by refusing to engage with the compact’s language and, more recently, by suggesting you would displace our Tribal partners with private, out-of-state commercial gaming operators. Your actions have shown that my continuing in service on your cabinet is unnecessary to you and impossible for me. I must accordingly resign, effective immediately.”