Oklahoma Supreme Court rules 2 new compacts invalid

Another court decision has gone against Gov. Kevin Stitt and the efforts of his office to renegotiate gaming compacts with Oklahoma's tribal governments. COURTESY

OKLAHOMA CITY -- In another reversal for Gov. Kevin Stitt's attempts to establish new gaming compacts with tribal governments in the state, the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled on Jan. 26 that his agreements with the United Keetoowah Band and Kialegee Tribal Town are not valid.

The court cited Oklahoma law, saying the compacts were renegotiated with different terms than those approved by voters in 2004 and without the input of a joint committee of the state Legislature, and that the governor's office had intruded on legislative powers.

Senate President Pro Tem Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma City, and House Speaker Charles McCall, R-Atoka, asked that the suit be filed, claiming Stitt exceeded his authority.

Though Stitt has made no moves on the compacts in recent months, he released a statement Jan. 27 stating he wanted to work with a joint legislative committee to review the gaming agreements "to benefit all 4 million Oklahomans."

"We appreciate the clarity and succinct wisdom of the Oklahoma Supreme Court's ruling," Matthew Morgan, Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association chairman, said in a statement. "The Executive branch's action in entering into the new compacts with the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians and the Kialegee Tribal Town -- containing different terms than the Model Gaming Compact and without approval from the Joint Committee -- disrupts the proper balance between the Executive and Legislative branches. As we have consistently maintained, the renewed Model Gaming Compact crafted more than 15 years ago is the only valid electronic gaming compact between the State and any Oklahoma Tribal Nation."

The ruling was anticipated because the Supreme Court ruled on Aug. 10 that compacts negotiated by Stitt with the Otoe-Missouria Tribe and Comanche Nation were invalid, though the justices cited the inclusion of gaming not approved by the Oklahoma Legislature as a factor in the decision.

Stitt's attorneys argued that his UKB and Kialegee agreements were in force because they did not mention the games found illegal by the court.

McCall and Treat requested the lawsuit challenging the UKB and Kialegee compacts. They were federally approved when the Department of the Interior allowed a 45-day window to elapse without action.

The DOI followed the same tactic with the Otoe-Missouri and Comanche agreements. Despite a July 21 ruling of the Oklahoma Supreme Court, the Otoe-Missouria Tribe and Comanche Nation have argued that state courts have no jurisdiction, partly because the DOI legally approved the compacts.

In October, the Comanche and Otoe-Missouria announced they were following the terms of the renegotiated compacts.

The Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw and Citizen Potawatomie nations still have a federal suit pending against Stitt, former Interior Secretary David L. Bernhardt and the tribes that received approval of new compacts from the DOI. The plaintiffs claim Stitt's 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.

Under the original compact, tribes pay the state 4% to 10% of revenue to exclusively offer Class III gaming, which includes slot machines, craps and roulette.

Stitt announced on Oct. 23 that he would not appeal a federal court decision stating the compacts renewed automatically on Jan. 1, 2020.

During 2019, Stitt applied increasing pressure to get tribes to renegotiate the compacts. He first claimed the compacts expired at the end of 2019, then claimed tribal gaming would be illegal beginning Jan. 1, 2020, without new compacts. The tribes claimed the compacts were not expired, and ignored the deadline by continuing their gaming operations when the new year began.