Comanche, Otoe-Missouria leaders defend gaming compacts
OKLAHOMA CITY – Leaders for the Comanche and Otoe-Missouria tribes on May 13 defended their gambling compact agreements with Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt and called on the U.S. Department of the Interior to approve them.
The tribal chairmen offered their positions in a 10-page memo to Interior Secretary David Bernhardt. The memo was written in response to Attorney General Mike Hunter’s May 5 opinion that states Stitt exceeded his authority when agreeing to forms of gambling, such as sportsbook wagering, which have never been approved by the Oklahoma Legislature.
“The compacts are the product of good-faith negotiations with the state,” states the memo, written by Comanche Nation Chairman William Nelson Sr. and Otoe-Missouria Tribe Chairman John Shotton. “They comply entirely with federal and state law, and they should be approved,”
The memo cites examples of compacts approved by DOI that address gambling types not allowed under state law.
“It is entirely appropriate for a compact to include provisions regarding forms of gaming that are not yet legal, but may be in the future,” the memo stated.
Nelson and Shotton said failure to uphold the compacts could make it more difficult for Oklahoma to settle its dispute with other tribes about their respective compacts.
“The complaints from our fellow tribes have no legitimate legal basis, as the compacts are legal, were negotiated in good faith, and should be approved,” Shotton said. “These compacts are the product of the most fundamental aspects of tribal sovereignty.”
The Chickasaw Nation, Quapaw Nation and Wichita and Affiliated Tribes have also written the DOI asking that the Bureau of Indian Affairs reject the Comanche and Otoe-Missouria gaming compacts. Stephen Greetham, senior counsel for the Chickasaw Nation, said bypassing a universal casino revenue sharing agreement for all Oklahoma tribes, was “a profound disrespect for Tribes and Tribal sovereignty.” The DOI must make a decision by June 8.
The Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association on May 7 suspended the Otoe-Missouria Tribe and Comanche Nation through the end of 2020.
Stitt announced on April 21 that the two tribes had entered into new compacts with the state. Hunter later sent a letter to Bernhardt asking him to reject the compacts.
The compacts, if approved, would authorize the Otoe-Missouria and Comanche tribes to offer sportsbook betting, with the state taking 1.1% of the handle. 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.
The Otoe-Missouria and Comanche were party to a lawsuit initially filed by the Cherokee, Choctaw and Chickasaw nations on Dec. 31 that was subsequently joined by other tribes.
In a joint statement after the suspension, 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.”
The litigating tribes want a legal interpretation of the gaming compacts, which they believe automatically renewed at the start of 2020. Stitt’s office claims the compacts expired and must be renegotiated. The legal impasse was in mediation as of publication.
Under the compacts, 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 made by other states.
Mediation is scheduled to end May 31 after being extended two months due to the COVID-19 pandemic.