Two Oklahoma tribal operators have agreed new gaming compacts, but it’s unclear if the Sooner State’s governor has exceeded his authority by authorising sports betting.
Governor Kevin Stitt announced he had signed new 15-year gaming compacts with the Red Rock, Oklahoma-based Otoe-Missouria Tribe and the Lawton-based Comanche Nation on 21 April.
“This modernised gaming compact expands opportunities for our tribal partners, enhances revenue for the state from Class III and covered games, and will strengthen state-tribal relations for generations to come,” Stitt said during a signing ceremony at the Oklahoma State Capitol.
The new compacts – which still need to be ratified by the US Department of the Interior – would authorise both tribes to offer sports betting, with there state’s receiving 1.1 percent of the amount wagered. The exclusivity fees paid by the tribes to the state would be between 4.5 to six percent of net revenue at existing casinos, similar to the fees paid under the current compacts. However, this figure would increase up to 13 percent for any new casinos built by the tribes.
The compacts allow the Otoe-Missouria Tribe to build new casinos in Logan, Noble and Payne counties, while the Comanche Nation could open new facilities in Cleveland, Grady and Love counties.
The move has met with criticism from the Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association, which argues that Stitt may have overstepped his legal authority.
“We respect the sovereignty of each tribe to take what actions it believes it must on behalf of its citizens, said OIGA chairman Matthew Morgan. “All the same, governor Stitt does not have the authority to do what he claims to have done.
“Without the engagement of the Oklahoma Legislature, he has entered agreements based on a claim of unilateral State authority to legalise sportsbook, to revamp the Oklahoma Lottery, and to authorise new gaming facilities in Norman and Stillwater, among other places. That’s simply not the law.
“I expect Tribal and State officials are now reviewing the documents he released …and trying to understand what exactly it is governor Stitt is trying to do. But at the end of the day, I suspect his actions have not helped matters for anyone,” he contended.
The state’s attorney general, Mike Hunter, similarly indicated that, in his view, Stitt does not have the legal authority to authorise sports betting at casinos.
“The governor has the authority to negotiate compacts with the tribes on behalf of the state,” he stated. “However, only gaming activities authorised by the (Oklahoma Tribal Gaming) Act may be the subject of a tribal gaming compact. Sports betting is not a prescribed ‘covered game’ under the act.”
MEDIATION ONGOING IN OKLAHOMA COMPACT RENEWAL DISPUTE
Oklahoma governor Kevin Stitt still remains embroiled in a legal dispute over compact renewal with 10 other tribes. The Cherokee, Chickasaw and Choctaw nations filed suit in federal court against governor Stitt on 31 December, seeking to clarify whether the compacts automatically renewed with the new year.
Nine other tribes were later permitted to join the lawsuit, including the Otoe-Missouria and Comanches.
In February, an Oklahoma City federal judge ordered the dispute to go to mediation. In a four-page order, US district court chief judge Timothy DeGiusti originally established a “firm deadline” for mediation to be completed by 31 March.
Nevertheless, citing the “conditions resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic”, he later extended this deadline until 31 May 2020. Tribes pay the state fees ranging from four to 10 percent for the exclusive right to operate Class III gaming, contributing some $150m to state coffers last year.