Mediation deadline for gaming compacts pushed to May 31
OKLAHOMA CITY – In response to the COVID-19 outbreak, the mediation deadline has been extended in the dispute between Oklahoma’s tribes, including the Cherokee Nation, and Gov. Kevin Stitt over the gaming compacts.
Chief U.S. District Judge Timothy DeGiusti changed the deadline for mediation in the lawsuit from March 31 to May 31. An April 3 status hearing is indefinitely postponed.
Serving as mediator is former U.S. District Judge Layn R. Phillips, who will try to bring the tribes and governor’s office into accord on the status of the tribal gaming compacts with the state. The tribes say the compacts immediately renewed at the beginning of 2020. Stitt insists the agreements expired.
Recently, a number of state lawmakers have also voiced skepticism toward any plans to open Oklahoma to non-tribal gaming interests. Stitt has suggested that private casino operators have expressed a willingness to move into the state, but he has not named any operations in particular. Baylee Lakey, spokeswoman for the governor’s office, has stated that Stitt is not “actively” recruiting commercial operators from out of state and seeks a “win-win” in mediation.
The lawmakers’ comments to Tulsa media echoed many of the same sentiments voiced by State Rep. Matt Meredith, D-Tahlequah, and State Sen. Dewayne Pemberton, R-Muskogee, this past summer, months before the Cherokee, Choctaw, and Muscogee (Creek) nations filed suit against the governor’s office on Dec. 31.
Meredith said he had always believed the compacts would “roll over,” and Pemberton said the matter may be out of the hands of the Legislature, because he thought the compacts were “between the governor and the tribes.”
Senate Bill 1902, introduced by Sen. Mark Allen, R-Spiro, would have permitted commercial Class III gaming, but the measure never received a hearing in the Senate’s Business, Commerce and Tourism Committee.
Sen. James Leewright, R-Bristow and BCT Committee chairman, told Tulsa media that SB 1902 and similar bills were premature with Stitt and the tribes still in mediation.
Others expressing doubts about outside gaming operations included State Rep. Denise Brewer, D-Tulsa; State Sen. Ron Sharp, R-Shawnee; State Sen. David Bullard, R-Durant; and State Rep. Meloyde Blancett, D-Tulsa.
“This would be almost uprooting an existing industry by doing that,” Blancett said.
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.
In their suit against the governor’s office, the tribes asked for a legal interpretation of renewal or expiration in the compact agreements.
After meeting with counsel for both sides on Feb. 7, DeGiusti 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.”
The expense of the mediator is shared by both sides.
The nations’ 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.”