Federal judge sides with tribes and rules gaming compacts renewed Jan. 1

OKLAHOMA CITY — A federal judge has sided with nine Oklahoma tribes and ruled that Oklahoma’s model tribal-gaming compact automatically renewed on Jan. 1.

Citing the Oklahoma Horse Racing Commission’s decision in October to grant electronic gaming licenses to two horse racing facilities for the upcoming year, Judge Timothy DeGuisti with the Western District of Oklahoma granted a motion for partial summary judgment on July 28.

“There is no question that STGA [state-tribal gaming compact] delegated to OHRC, an executive agency, the power to implement its provisions and to authorize organizational licensees (horse race tracks) to conduct electronic gaming if they meet statutory and regulatory requirements,” DeGuisti wrote. “There is also no question that OHRC took these governmental actions following the effective dates of the compacts. Indeed, OHRC issued such licenses to two horse race tracks in October 2019 for the year 2020. No more was required for the compacts to automatically renew on Jan. 1, 2020, for a successive 15-year term.”

The Cherokee, Chickasaw and Choctaw nations originally filed suit on New Year’s Eve against Gov. Kevin Stitt in the Western District of Oklahoma, asking for a declaratory judgment that the state-tribal model gaming compact automatically renewed on New Year’s Day. The Muscogee (Creek), Quapaw, Delaware, Citizen Potawatomi and Seminole nations, plus the Wichita and Affiliated Tribes all eventually joined the fray.

The decision does not address an additional complaint filed by the Wichita and Affiliated Tribes that the state violated the exclusivity provisions of the model gaming compact by authorizing the Oklahoma lottery and 2015 amendments to the Iowa Tribe of Oklahoma’s compact that allow for online gambling.   

When reached on July 28, a spokesman for Gov. Stitt’s office was unable to answer whether the governor will appeal.

Judge DeGuisti’s ruling marks the second compact-related legal loss for the governor in one week. On July 21, the Oklahoma Supreme Court held that the compacts he signed with the Comanche Nation and Otoe-Missouria Tribe were invalid because they include provisions not allowed under state law. As of press time, similar litigation is still pending regarding gaming compacts signed by the Kialegee Tribal Town and the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians.