Government , Business , Legal

OK legislature challenging Gov. Stitt over two tribal gaming compacts

Photo caption: The Comanche Nation and Otoe-Missouria Tribe signed new gaming compacts with Gov. Kevin Stitt. KTUL Channel 8

OKLAHOMA CITY — Pending an appearance in the Federal Register, two Oklahoma tribes have new gaming compacts with the state.

On June 8, Gov. Kevin Stitt’s office announced that the gaming compacts signed in April with the Comanche Nation and Otoe-Missouria Tribe were deemed approved by the Department of Interior.

Under the terms of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, a compact that is “deemed approved” is one that the Secretary of Interior has not formally acted on one way or the other by the 45-day deadline laid out in law. Such a compact is considered legal only to the extent it does not violate the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.

As of June 9, the approval notice has not appeared in the Federal Register. Until that notice is published, the compacts’ new terms cannot take effect. The agreements are also missing from the list of approved compacts listed on the website for the Department of Interior’s Office of Indian Gaming as of June 9.

Under the terms of the new agreements, both tribes would pay an exclusivity fee starting at 4.5 percent on revenue generated by Class III games at their existing casinos. If additional casinos are opened, then the exclusivity fee increases to 6 percent. That is on top of the annual oversight fee ranging from $25,000 to $250,000, depending on how much revenue is generated. Although the tribes will not be required to pay any fees on Class II games, they will be required to have at least 45 percent of their electronic games be considered Class III machines.

The Otoe-Missouria and Comanche compacts also include provisions allowing sports betting at two brick and mortar locations and online sports betting. That revenue would be subject to an additional 1.1 percent fee and any sports betting vendors brought on board by either tribe would be subject to approval by the state first.

Books at either tribe’s casinos would not be allowed to accept wagers on intercollegiate games involving Oklahoma teams or on college athletic events staged within the state, such as the Women’s College World Series in Oklahoma City or the Big 12 wrestling tournament at Tulsa’s BOK Center.

Sportsbooks are currently not allowed under Oklahoma’s gaming law and the legislature was not consulted during negotiations, prompting Attorney General Mike Hunter to issue a formal opinion in May that the compacts are invalid and in violation of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.

Additionally, other Oklahoma gaming tribes have lodged written objections with the Department of Interior over compact language that gives the governor’s endorsement for the Otoe-Missouria Tribe and Comanche Nation to open up new facilities in specific counties that are outside of their jurisdictional areas in exchange for higher exclusivity fees. Section 20 of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act includes provisions for tribes to take land into trust outside of their jurisdictional area if certain conditions are met, including approval from state officials.

The Comanche Nation’s compact allows for one new facility each in Grady, Cleveland and Love counties, while the Otoe-Missouria compact would allow for one new casino each in Logan, Payne and Noble counties.   

Payne County is currently home to two tribal casinos: one operated by the Pawnee Nation near Yale and one operated by the Iowa Tribe in Perkins. The Iowa Tribe also operates the only casino in Logan County, a 40-slot facility in Coyle.

Headquartered in Red Rock, the Otoe-Missouria Tribe already operates casinos in Noble County in Perry and Red Rock.

The Chickasaw Nation has all of Love County and more than half of Grady County within its jurisdictional area. It also operates a casino just outside of Cleveland County in far northern McClain County near Norman.

Western Cleveland County is within the jurisdictional areas of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation and Absentee Shawnee Tribe.

Meanwhile, litigation is still pending in the Western District of Oklahoma between the governor and nine tribes over the status of the model state-tribal gaming compact that was signed more than 15 years ago by all of Oklahoma’s gaming tribes.  

Tribes involved in the lawsuit include the Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Muscogee (Creek), Seminole, Citizen Potawatomi and Delaware nations; the Quapaw Tribe and Wichita and Affiliated Tribes.

Due to COVID-19, the deadline for court-ordered mediation in the matter was extended. Responses to dueling motions for summary judgment are due June 12.  

Stitt’s attorneys have formally requested Judge Timothy DeGuisti put mediation on hold and decide whether he can legally unilaterally sign off on new or amended compacts offering Class III games currently not allowed under state law.   

On Thursday, state Speaker of the House Charles McCall (R-Atoka) and President Pro Tempore Greg Treat (R-Oklahoma City) filed a motion with the Oklahoma Supreme Court, asking it to assume jurisdiction on the question of whether Gov. Stitt overstepped his authority by excluding the legislature from the decision-making process to overhaul the compacts. During the 2018 statewide teacher walk-out, the legislature had to vote to amend the compacts to allow non-house banked craps and roulette.

An Oklahoma Supreme Court referee is scheduled to hear the matter on July 1.