Government , Business

Oklahoma tribes stand united and reject Gov. Stitt’s gaming compact extension

Photo caption: It will be business as usual at all seven locations of Osage Casinos on Jan. 1, 2020. CODY HAMMER/Osage News

TULSA, Okla. — Calling it unnecessary, Oklahoma’s gaming tribes are officially passing on a compact extension offer from the state.

At a joint press conference Dec. 19 at River Spirit Casino, leaders from 32 Oklahoma tribes publicly rejected a Dec. 17 proposal from Gov. Kevin Stitt to temporarily extend the current gaming compacts through August.

Gov. Stitt is seeking a higher exclusivity fee rate from the state’s gaming tribes and maintains that the current compacts expire on Jan. 1, thus making Class III games illegal.

Tribal leaders have publicly said otherwise, pointing to language in the compacts that says they automatically renew if certain provisions are met, including the Oklahoma Horse Racing Commission’s reauthorization of gaming and racing licenses back in October.

“It’s not needed,” Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association Chairman Matt Morgan said. “We’re not sure he has the legal authority to offer that extension in the first place, but it is not needed.”

In accordance with the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, Class III compacted games in Oklahoma include slot machines, craps, roulette and house-banked table games, such as blackjack. Class II gaming, which includes electronic bingo and pull-tab games, is not subject to the compact. The current compacts do not include provisions to allow for sports betting or online gambling.

Under the current compact, the exclusivity fees for Oklahoma’s 131 tribally operated casinos range from 4 to 10 percent, prompting a $139 million payout to state coffers in 2018 alone. That figure represents an increase of 3.48 percent from the previous fiscal year.

Additionally, the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act requires the Department of Interior to approve any amendments to state-tribal gaming compacts, including the 2018 addition of ball and dice games after the statewide teacher walkout. Both sides have reached out to the federal government about the potential for litigation should the stalemate continue.

“We stand united today in our preference to avoid a protracted multi-year legal battle,” Morgan said. “We stand united today prepared for an unfortunate lengthy legal battle with Gov. Stitt and we do not want to describe the indescribable nature of the damage it will do to our relationship with the state and the state’s business reputation.”

Speaking on behalf of five north-central Oklahoma tribes, Kaw Nation Chairwoman Lynn Williams pushed back against Gov. Stitt’s claims that the tribes are not united on compact talks and reiterated the economic impact gaming has had on rural communities.

“We’re small tribes, but we turn most of our revenue back towards our communities,” she said. “We support our schools and build roads. We take care of the health of our citizens but those who are non-Native as well.”

Officials with Osage Casinos have previously said that their properties will be open on New Year’s Day, a position that other tribal leaders reiterated at River Spirit.

“It’ll be status quo,” Morgan said. “We don’t believe Jan. 1 will be critical because the auto-renewal has already been triggered. We’ll continue to be open and continue to offer the same games. It’ll be business as usual.”