Government , Business

Congress approves resolution authorizing Chief to negotiate updated gaming compact with state

With two recently decided court decisions impacting Oklahoma’s Indian Country, efforts for the Osage Nation to negotiate an updated gaming compact could start soon thanks to an Osage Congressional resolution approved in the August special session.

The Seventh ON Congress unanimously approved ONCR 20-22 (sponsored by Congressional Speaker Angela Pratt), which is a resolution “authorizing the Principal Chief of the Osage Nation to negotiate terms of a gaming compact and to present any negotiated new terms of a gaming compact to the Osage Nation Congress for approval.”

ONCR 20-22’s passage comes in wake of the year-long dispute between Gov. Kevin Stitt and the state’s gaming tribes after he took the stance in summer 2019 that the current state-tribal model gaming compacts (also used by the Osage Nation) expired Jan. 1, 2020 and those compacts would need to be renegotiated with his intent to seek higher exclusivity fees paid to the state. With many of the gaming tribes (including Osage) standing in union arguing the compacts as written automatically renewed on Jan. 1, the Sixth ON Congress passed ONCR 19-19 in September 2019 rejecting Stitt’s claim that the gaming compacts expired Jan. 1.

While the tribes and Stitt argued over the status of the gaming compacts, no tribal casinos closed in Oklahoma after Jan. 1 except for the COVID-19 pandemic prompting tribes to close their casinos as part of proactive measures to cut down on the spread. All seven Osage Casinos were closed for a nearly two-month period starting in March shortly after Oklahoma’s first COVID-19 cases were reported.

In the most recent gaming compact debate update on July 28, federal Judge Timothy DeGuisti ruled in favor of gaming tribes in a Western District of Oklahoma case initially filed by the Cherokee, Chickasaw and Choctaw nations on New Year’s Eve asking for a declaratory judgment that the gaming compacts at issue automatically renewed on Jan. 1. Also on July 21, the Oklahoma Supreme Court held that the compacts Stitt signed with the Comanche Nation and Otoe-Missouria Tribe were invalid because they included provisions not allowed under current state law.

“There have been two major court decisions recently, we stayed out of court by following along, staying in pace with everything by not getting tied up in litigation,” Principal Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear told Congress on Aug. 5. “The Supreme Court of Oklahoma made a very important decision by saying the Governor may be able to enter into compacts with the tribes on his own, but he cannot redefine the types of gaming that are allowed in Oklahoma for a compact. So all that discussion about house-banked (games), roulette, gaming, cards, all the Las Vegas-style now requires a tribe and the Governor to go to the state Senate and state House and ask for sportsbook or ask for the type of gaming to compete with other casinos in Arkansas and wherever else they may be constructed.”

“Now that this Supreme Court has ruled and Federal Judge DeGiusti has ruled the compacts rollover 15 years as is, but ‘as is’ means the forms of gaming we have now and does not authorize any new forms of gaming, which is really where we want to be,” Standing Bear said. “So we need to be able to have flexibility to adjust to what could be more fast-paced action and anything the executive does, of course, should have to come to the Osage Congress. I’m going to be meeting with people and they’re going to want to know can I actually speak for the Nation on this and that… Anything else will be subject to reports to the Congress and final approval by the Congress.”

According to ONCR 20-22: “The Principal Chief may negotiate with the Governor and Legislature of the State of Oklahoma terms of modification of the existing gaming compact or terms of a new gaming compact which are only valid if approved by the Osage Nation Congress. In addition thereto, any new terms are further subject to approval by the United States Department of Interior where required by federal law.”

The resolution passed 12-0 on Aug. 13 before the special session adjourned.