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Stitt announces gaming compacts with Otoe-Missouria, Comanche tribes

Gov. Kevin Stitt announced during an April 21 news conference that the Otoe-Missouria Tribe and Comanche Nation have agreed to new compacts with the state of Oklahoma.

The Otoe-Missouria and Comanche tribes were party to a lawsuit filed by the Cherokee, Choctaw and Chickasaw nations on Dec. 31, which was subsequently joined by five other tribes. The tribes demanded legal interpretation of the gaming compacts, which they believe automatically renewed at the start of 2020. Stitt’s office insists the compacts are expired and must be renegotiated. The legal impasse is in mediation.

Stitt said the newly announced compacts are in the best interest of the state, the Otoe-Missouria and Comanche tribes as well as the communities where the tribes reside and operate.

“The new compacts recognize the sovereign rights of individual tribes to conduct gaming in Oklahoma,” he said. “The compacts take a sound approach to assessing the value of substantial exclusivity in a modernized tribal gaming industry, and importantly, the compacts expand opportunity for both the compacting tribes and the state to compete in future gaming markets.”

The compacts, if ratified by the U.S. Department of the Interior, would authorize the Otoe-Missouria and Comanche tribes to offer sportsbook betting, with the state taking 1.1% of the wagers. Exclusivity fees paid to the state would amount to 4.5% to 6% of net revenue at the two tribes’ existing casinos, but the state’s cut would increase to as much as 13% at any new casinos the Otoe-Missouria Tribe or Comanche Nation might build.

In a response, also released on April 21, Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association Chairman Matthew Morgan said the OIGA respects tribal sovereignty and any decisions believed necessary for citizens’ welfare.

“All the same, Gov. Stitt does not have the authority to do what he claims to have done today,” Morgan said. “Without the engagement of the Oklahoma Legislature, he has entered agreements based on a claim of unilateral state authority to legalize sportsbook, to revamp the Oklahoma Lottery, and to authorize new gaming facilities in Norman and Stillwater, among other places. That’s simply not the law.”

Morgan said he did not believe Stitt’s actions had “not helped matters for anyone.”

“I expect tribal and state officials are now reviewing the documents he released today and trying to understand what exactly it is Gov. Stitt is trying to do,” Morgan said.

Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. also released a statement on April 21 supporting tribal sovereignty.

“I also continue to see the wisdom in solidarity among more than 30 Indian nations so that the end result of compact negotiations is fair to the tribes and the state, as well as a win for all 4 million Oklahomans,” Hoskin said. “Cherokee Nation continues to stand in solidarity with our tribes across the state. Today’s action by Gov. Stitt and two tribes will not change our course of action, has no legal basis and is wholly unhelpful to the process of reaching a win-win compact for the future of gaming. In the meantime, the current compact remains in effect.”

Under the compact, the tribes pay the state 4% to 10% percent of revenue to exclusively offer Class III gaming, which includes slot machines, craps and roulette. The state collected $150 million from the fees in 2019, but Stitt argues Oklahoma tribes pay too little for gaming in comparison to agreements in other states.

Before the casinos were closed in response to the COVID-19 outbreak, tribes continued paying revenues as dictated by their compacts despite the dispute with the governor’s office. 

Mediation is still scheduled to end May 31 after being extended two months due to the pandemic.

After meeting with counsel for both sides on Feb. 7, Chief U.S. District Judge Timothy DeGiusti issued the mediation order on Feb. 10.

The order does not allow parties to the suit to publicly discuss details of the mediation without permission from the court.

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