National Congress of American Indians backs lawsuit against Stitt
OKLAHOMA CITY – While they litigate cases in federal courts concerning casino gaming, Oklahoma tribes are hearing voices of support from around the United States.
Two federal cases involve the Cherokee Nation and other tribes requesting an interpretation of the gaming compact agreed to by tribes and the state of Oklahoma in 2005, and Gov. Stitt asking that Class III gaming be shut down at tribal casinos. The former case has been ordered to mediation.
Among those speaking out are the Wichita and Affiliated Tribes, and National Congress of American Indians President Fawn Sharp.
Sharp, speaking at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., during the 18th State of Indian Nations address, suggested a danger of “annihilation” tribal rights.
“The National Congress of American Indians, our delegates and members, we stand with those tribes that are facing a direct threat and annihilation to their sovereignty through this compact dispute,” Sharp said.
Stitt and the tribes disagree on whether the compact automatically renewed on Jan. 1. The tribes continue to offer Class III games at their venues.
The Wichita, Keechi, Tawakoni and Waco tribes filed a federal court document on Feb. 14 claiming Stitt obviated his claim of expiration by signing extension agreements with the United Keetoowah Band and the Kialagee Tribal Town.
In the filing, the Wichita and Affiliated Tribes claim the compacts automatically renew if “organization licensees or others are authorized to conduct electronic gaming” when the compacts are due for renewal.
Stitt’s office claimed on Feb. 15 that the agreement did not trigger a renewal with all gaming tribes in Oklahoma.
The Choctaw, Cherokee and Chickasaw nations, followed by the Muscogee (Creek) and Citizen Potawatomi tribes, filed a federal suit on Dec. 31 against the governor’s office, asking for a legal interpretation of renewal or expiration in the compact agreements.
“When the tribal nations succeed in putting the state of Oklahoma in its place, we will be standing right there with them,” Sharp said.
After meeting with counsel for both sides on Feb. 7, Chief Judge Timothy D. DeGiusti of the U.S. District Court for the Western District issued an order for mediation on Feb. 10.
The order does not allow parties to the suit to publicly discuss details of the arbitration without permission from the court, stating further that “no party may make any public statement, media release, or other comment for public broadcast regarding the status or conduct of the mediation or the characterization of any party’s position therein without prior leave of the Court.”
Both sides must submit a list of three possible mediators for consideration by the court, which will request further names if none are deemed acceptable. Within 21 days of naming a mediator, the parties must submit a report on the status of the mediation.
The order also states that the mediation should be complete or nearly complete by March 31 and calls it a “firm deadline,” though an extension is still possible. The expense of the mediator will be shared by both sides.
Under the compact, the tribes pay the state 4% to 10% of revenue to exclusively offer Class III gaming, which includes slot machines, craps and roulette.
The tribes’ suit called for the 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 federal lawsuit filed by the office of Stitt has asked the courts to declare all Class III gaming illegal in Oklahoma without a renegotiated compact. The tribes maintain that all claims of the compact expiring are false, and they have not acknowledged any deadlines or time limits claimed by Stitt.