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Federal court rules in favor of tribes in gaming compact dispute with Gov. Stitt

Posted at 10:33 AM, Jul 28, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-28 16:11:38-04

A federal court ruled in favor of tribes in Oklahoma tribal gaming compact dispute with Governor Kevin Stitt.

For months, Native American tribal leaders and Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt have been in a disagreement over the renewal of the tribal gaming compacts.

READ MORE: Gov. Stitt responds to tribal leaders lawsuit over gaming compact

The United States District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma ruled the tribal gaming compact automatically renewed for an additional 15-year term on Jan. 1, 2020, according to court records.

The ruling is a win for the tribes who sued Gov. Stitt.

Gov. Stitt expressed his disappointment in the courts ruling, saying the state now will bear the cost of a 'poorly negotiated deal.'

I am deeply disappointed by the federal court’s ruling. It confirms my fears, and the fears of many fellow Oklahomans, that the State entered into a poorly negotiated deal and now we must bear the cost of this mistake. The federal court determined that the 2004 Gaming Compact autorenewed for 15 years because of an action taken by an agency’s unelected board to reissue licenses for gaming at horse racing tracks. This decision, coupled with the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling on McGirt, means Oklahomans have important questions to face regarding our future. Among other things, we will need to explore the challenges of who will pay taxes and who won’t, of how we will guarantee a competitive marketplace, and of how the State will fund core public services into the next generation. In short, we face a question of constitutional proportions about what it means to be the state of Oklahoma and how we regulate and oversee all business in our state.

When I came into office, I inherited letters from tribes saying the compacts were set to expire on January 1, 2020. In my first six months, I traveled across the state listening to tribal leaders and to leaders from many sectors of Oklahoma’s economy about these compacts. What I heard and what I learned is that only a few tribes were receiving most of the benefit from gaming; the one-size-fits-all approach to the Model Gaming Compact was clearly broken. As your Governor, I was driven by a conviction that we could look to the future and generate new, sustainable opportunities for the next generation of Oklahomans.

As the State began its efforts to renegotiate, the 2004 Gaming Compact continued to prove its shortcomings were much deeper. Judge DeGuisti’s decision to send the State and the tribes to court-ordered mediation was right and it was fruitful. It brought differing tribal voices to the table that historically were cut out from these conversations. It resulted in new gaming compacts, affirmed by the U.S. Department of Interior, and it showed Oklahoma what could be possible with a fresh slate.

The new gaming compacts demonstrate the State could offer unique, thoughtful opportunities for each tribe. In turn, the State could achieve fair-market rates, as high as 13%, for Class III gaming operations, and we could establish clear auditing and transparency measures to protect the integrity of the compact and ensure the trust of all Oklahoma citizens. Our new gaming compacts show when the State and Tribes are at the table together, we can achieve better public policy and healthier relationships. We could create gaming compacts that level the playing field for all Oklahoma job creators and spur hundreds of millions of dollars more in revenue for our public schools.

As we move forward, I will continue to hold fast to my commitment as your Governor to work with all Oklahomans on Top Ten solutions that deliver a stronger, more prosperous future for our state.

Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr.took to twitter to express he is pleasedwith the courts ruling.

The Cherokee Nation is pleased with today's ruling which affirms what our tribal nations have known from the beginning, that our gaming compacts with the state of Oklahoma renewed on Jan. 1 for another 15 years. Tribal gaming in this state will continue to be strong, not only for tribes, but for all of Oklahoma, contributing vital education dollars into our public schools and bolstering health care, roads and communities. Everything in our compact now remains the same, and we hope we can move forward and build a relationship built on respect with Gov. Stitt in the future.
Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr.

The state and 35 tribes entered the gaming compacts in 2005. Officials said between July 3 and July 8, 2019, Stitt requested the tribal leaders work with the state to renegotiate terms in the gaming compacts "within 180 days of the expiration of this Compact or any renewal thereof.”

In December of 2019, Oklahoma's Five Cilvilized Tribes rejected Stitt's call to negotiate new gaming compacts. The leaders of the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Muscogee, Creek, and Seminole Nations questioned the governor's sincerity to work with them.

We have considered the state of Oklahoma a trustworthy partner through the years. Working together we have made strides in building a better, stronger and more prosperous Oklahoma for the benefit of the hundreds of thousands of members of our Tribes who live and work here as well as all residents of this great State. We can trace the starting point of our constructive partnership to the carefully crafted and balanced approach represented in the current compact negotiated in a respectful manner between the State of Oklahoma and the sovereign Tribes residing in Oklahoma. This compact represents a continuing and mutually beneficial partnership. The recent action of Governor Stitt puts into question his sincerity to work with us in a cooperative manner moving ahead. We are resolute in our position, and it is our hope Governor Stitt and his advisers will not attempt any bad faith interference on the compact which could set back the progress we have achieved by working together.
Five Tribal Leaders said in a joint statement

Governor Stitt expressed he was elected to find a 'fair-mark deal' regarding the gaming compacts.

Oklahoma is comprised of 39 federally-recognized tribes and roughly 4 million people, and I was elected to give a fresh eye to all agreements, laws, and actions by state government and to make the hard decisions that consider every individual who calls this great state home. Dating back to the campaign, I was transparent and clear that, as governor, I would seek a fair-market deal regarding the State’s Tribal Gaming Compacts that expire on January 1, 2020. This 15-year-old compact established some of the lowest gaming fees in the nation, and the tribes have been fantastic, successful business leaders in our state, turning their gaming industry in Oklahoma into the third largest in the nation today. I am committed to open discussions with all Tribal partners and to achieving an outcome that spurs more funding for public education, grows opportunity for the tribes, and is a successful partnership for the state and future generations of Oklahomans.
Gov. Kevin Stitt

At the beginning of the 2020, Oklahoma tribes said it would be business as usual at their casinos, while Stitt said the compacts expire and, he believed, gambling at tribal casinos would be illegal.

Two tribes signed extensions to continue negotiations with the State, while others continued to reject Stitt's offer.

In July 2020, the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled the gaming compacts signed with the two tribes were "invalid under Oklahoma law."

To read the court's ruling in full, click here.

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