Government , Business , Legal

OIGA officials meet with Osage Congressional commerce committee

As Oklahoma tribes react to Gov. Kevin Stitt’s proposal to renegotiate the tribes’ gaming compacts, the Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association met with tribal leaders to discuss its involvement with the gaming tribes including the Osage Nation.

The tribal leader and gaming-related meetings are a response in wake of Stitt’s letter to gaming tribes proposing to renegotiate the gaming compacts with the intent to reevaluate and potentially increase the exclusivity fees the tribes pay to the state government.

At the recommendation of Principal Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear, OIGA officials provided an update for the Sixth ON Congress while it met for its 2019 Tzi-Zho Session.

On Sept. 11, the Congressional Commerce, Gaming and Land Committee met with OIGA officials who provided a status report from its trade organization’s standpoint. The OIGA presentation included public comments before the meeting went into executive session for discussing confidential/ proprietary matters as allowed by Osage law.

OIGA Chairman Matthew Morgan, who is the Chickasaw Nation’s director of gaming affairs, said OIGA is engaging in a public relations effort under the theme of “'United for Oklahoma’ … That effort has reached out to every corner of this state to (people) willing to talk to them and tell their stories of how tribes benefit the local community – What are you doing in terms of infrastructure, in terms of education, in terms of programs and services, health care and philanthropic efforts? – And nothing is said about gaming or the compact – Just a focus on what tribes are doing to benefit communities and every tribe has that unique story they can tell on how they benefit not only their citizens but surrounding communities,” Morgan said.

Morgan said Tulsa attorney Dean Luthey, who also represents the ON Gaming Enterprise Board, represents OIGA and he is meeting with tribal attorneys from across the state for any updates. Morgan also said OIGA is meeting with other tribal leaders to “have a dialogue on how they feel about this subject.”

So far, Morgan said OIGA has met with tribal leaders as a group three times since its conference held this summer shortly after Stitt announced his renegotiation proposal.

“Know that we have all the tribal leaders from Oklahoma unified on its messaging back to Gov. Stitt,” Morgan told the Congressional Commerce committee. “We believe the compact automatically renews and everything that needs to happen has happened to trigger that and if you want to talk to the tribes about something, show us what that something is – give us a proposal – because tribes aren’t being unreasonable, we’re operating under our compacts with you and what that compact says is during this 180 days prior to Jan. 1, should either party want to renegotiate, they’re able to offer a proposal and ask for a renegotiation… We’ve not seen one proposal and as such, tribes are telling him ‘until we get that proposal, we’re not willing to sit down and discuss.’”

In speaking with tribes, Morgan noted OIGA is not telling tribes they have to agree to something, but “we want you to be open to look at something and each tribal leader, for themselves, for their tribe (so they) can decide if that proposal makes sense for them.”

OIGA Executive Director Sheila Morago said PR literature is planned for publication in the state’s major newspapers with numbers regarding the tribes’ contributions to the state besides gaming. “We’ve been extremely surprised the general Oklahoman doesn’t know what tribes do, doesn’t know the impact not just from gaming, but from the tribes as a whole – infrastructure, health care, education, not just on the revenue share we give to the state, but what they do individually with their communities,” she said. For example, Morago said tribes have donated funding to educational institutions for athletic fields, uniforms, jerseys and backpacks.

According to the United for Oklahoma website, the group cites the 2017 Oklahoma Native Impact Study statistics. Oklahoma tribes accounted for 96,177 jobs statewide; $4.6 billion in salaries and wages to Oklahoma workers; and nearly $13 billion in state production of goods and services.

United for Oklahoma’s website also states: “Native American tribes are an integral part of Oklahoma with roots that are deep and permanent. The tribes are an economic engine that impact the state's economy by the billions. And they’re making a critical difference in our communities — creating jobs and investing in key areas like education, health care and infrastructure. When the tribes are strong, our state is strong. We are United for Oklahoma: committed to mutual respect, shared strength and productive partnerships.”