OIGA suspends 2 tribes that signed gaming compacts with Stitt
In this July 23 photo, patrons play at poker tables in the casino at the WinStar World Casino and Resort in Thackerville. Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt overstepped his legal authority when he reached deals with two Native American tribes to allow sports gambling, and the federal government should reject the proposals, state Attorney General Mike Hunter said. SUE OGROCKI/ASSOCIATED PRESS
OKLAHOMA CITY – The Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association has suspended two tribes that signed gaming compacts in April with Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt – independently of other tribes that are party to a lawsuit against him.
The OIGA announced on May 7 the Otoe-Missouria Tribe’s and the Comanche Nation’s suspension through the end of 2020, following an adjustment of OIGA bylaws.
“This was a difficult decision to make, but it was the correct one,” said Matthew Morgan, OIGA chairman. “Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association works best when its membership can speak frankly and with the trust that all members are working together to support our industry as a whole.”
Stitt announced on April 21 that the Otoe-Missouria and Comanche tribes had entered into new compacts with the state.
Reiterating what he said in April shortly after the compacts were signed, Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter – in another opinion asked by state lawmakers – said Stitt exceeded his authority by agreeing to forms of gambling not approved by the Legislature.
Hunter gave his opinion on May 5, and sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt asking him to reject the new compacts.
The compacts require Interior approval. If ratified, they would authorize the Otoe-Missouria and Comanche tribes to offer sportsbook betting, with the state taking 1.1% of the wagers. Exclusivity fees paid to the state would be 4.5% to 6% of net revenue at existing casinos, but the state’s cut would increase to as much as 13% at any new casinos opened by the two tribes.
Hunter said he “concludes Governor Stitt was without legal authority to bind the State of Oklahoma to these agreements and therefore it cannot be said that the State has entered into a new gaming compact with these tribal nations.” He added that “the Governor cannot authorize the violation of state law through a compact with an Indian tribe.”
The Otoe-Missouria and Comanche were party to a lawsuit initially filed by the Cherokee, Choctaw and Chickasaw nations on Dec. 31.
In a joint statement, the Comanche and Otoe-Missouria tribes said: “Our compacts are legal and were negotiated in good faith. The political fight between the governor and the attorney general over sports betting is not our concern and does not impact the legality of the compacts.”
In his letter to Bernhardt, Hunter expressed a concern that the compact negotiations were sowing confusion about the state-tribal relationship.
“Oklahoma deeply values its relationship with the tribal nations that reside within its borders,” Hunter wrote. “They are an integral part of our community, history, culture, economy and way of life. Their importance demands the respect of knowing that, when state officials make promises to Indian tribes, those officials have the authority to bind the State to such agreements.”
The litigating tribes want a legal interpretation of the gaming compacts, which they believe automatically renewed with the start of 2020. Stitt’s office claims the compacts expired and must be renegotiated. The legal impasse is in mediation.
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 state collected $150 million from the fees in 2019, but Stitt says Oklahoma tribes pay too little for gaming in contrast to agreements in other states.
Before the casinos were closed in response to the pandemic, tribes continued paying revenues as dictated by their compacts despite the dispute with the governor’s office.
Mediation is scheduled to end May 31 after being extended two months.
The order does not allow parties to the suit to publicly discuss details of the mediation without permission from the court.