Stitt won’t appeal federal ruling on gaming compact renewal

BY D. SEAN ROWLEY
Senior Reporter
11/12/2020 08:30 AM
Main Cherokee Phoenix
Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt released a statement on Oct. 23 claiming he would not appeal the decision of a federal court that Oklahoma’s tribal gaming compacts renewed automatically on Jan. 1, 2020. COURTESY
OKLAHOMA CITY – After a protracted battle with Oklahoma’s tribal governments over his insistence that gaming compacts be renegotiated, Gov. Kevin Stitt announced on Oct. 23 that he would not appeal a federal court’s ruling stating that the compacts renewed automatically on Jan. 1.

Stitt claimed “unprecedented uncertainty” due to the U.S. Supreme Court decision in McGirt v. Oklahoma required a change of priorities in state-tribal relations. The McGirt ruling found that the Muscogee (Creek) Nation reservation was never dissolved by Congress, which allowed the presumption that other reservations, including that of the Cherokee Nation, still exist in the state.

“Therefore, it is essential for state and tribal leaders to join together to resolve the challenges this ruling presents for Oklahomans and their businesses,” Stitt said in his statement.

Stitt also stated that the tribes and state should cooperate “to find solutions that respect the unique relationship between the state of Oklahoma and its tribal citizens, and that provide certainty and fairness for all Oklahomans.”

The statement suggested the governor is ending his pursuit of new compacts with each individual tribe, which would give Oklahoma a larger share of gaming revenue.

Under the renewed 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 fees in 2019.

“The appeal by the state of Oklahoma (is) not going to occur and that matter was put to rest,” Cherokee Nation Businesses CEO Chuck Garrett said during the Tribal Council’s Oct. 29 Executive & Finance Committee meeting. “Of course, that is a significant event for us and I would like to publicly thank (Cherokee Nation Attorney General) Sara Hill and her staff, but all of you who contributed to that win…. I’m glad that’s is behind us.”

Hill told the Rules Committee on Oct. 29 that she was “proud to give my very last update on the compact gaming dispute with the governor’s office.”

“That case is definitely concluded, so we can move on from that decision and move on to more important matters,” Hill said.

During 2019, Stitt applied gradually increasing pressure to bring the tribes to the table to renegotiate the compacts. He first claimed that the compacts expired at the end of 2019, then claimed that tribal gaming would be illegal beginning Jan. 1, 2020. The tribes voiced their disagreement that the compacts expired, and roundly ignored the deadline by continuing their gaming operations when the new year began.

Stitt repeatedly lost decisions in state and federal court cases, whether brought by the tribes or Oklahoma lawmakers.

Hill also said the CN and other tribes have filed a lawsuit against the state, U.S. Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, the Comanche Nation, Otoe-Missouria Tribe, Kialegee Tribal Town and the United Keetoowah Band for “illegal compacting.”

“This is a case filed in the (Washington) D.C. District Court,” she said. “That’s a federal lawsuit, so it will take some time to move on through, but there are no really big updates in that case except that it’s continuing.”

The plaintiffs say those agreements initially allow lower fee percentages for the Comanche and Otoe-Missouria than other tribes pay under their compacts. All Oklahoma tribes agreed to the same exclusivity terms that went into effect in 2005.
About the Author
Sean Rowley was hired by the Cherokee Phoenix at the beginning of 2019. Sean was born a long time ago in Tulsa, where he grew up and attended Booker T. Washington High School as a freshman before moving to Pawnee County and graduating from Cleveland High School in 1987. 

He graduated sans honors from Northeastern State University in 1992 with a bachelor of arts in mass communication with emphases in advertising and public relati ...
david-rowley@cherokee.org • 918-453-5560
Sean Rowley was hired by the Cherokee Phoenix at the beginning of 2019. Sean was born a long time ago in Tulsa, where he grew up and attended Booker T. Washington High School as a freshman before moving to Pawnee County and graduating from Cleveland High School in 1987. He graduated sans honors from Northeastern State University in 1992 with a bachelor of arts in mass communication with emphases in advertising and public relati ...

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