Controversial Gaming Compact Pits Gov. Stitt And Okla.’s Largest Tribes In Lawsuit

Thursday, July 23rd 2020, 9:52 pm
By: News 9, Amanda Taylor

TULSA, Okla. -

In north central Oklahoma, Red Rock, a small Native American tribe, was preparing for big changes to the Oklahoma casino industry.

The Otoe-Missouria tribe has only about 3,200 citizens. The tribe owns and operates five casinos.

The tribe is one of four that signed a controversial, new gaming compact with the state of Oklahoma and Governor Kevin Stitt.

"This is a very competitive market in the state,” Otoe-Missouria Tribe Chairman John Shotton said.

The compact signed in April received a lot of pushback from Oklahoma Senate President Pro Tem Greg Treat and House Speaker Charles McCall. Treat and McCall, who are both Republicans, filed a petition arguing the agreement is illegal because the legislature never approved it.

On Tuesday, the state’s supreme court sided with the Republican leaders.

"The Oklahoma Supreme Court doesn't have jurisdiction to invalidate our compact when state and federal law dictates that our compact is legal,” Shotton said in response on Tuesday.

But three of the state's largest tribes -- the Chickasaw, Choctaw and Cherokee -- still have a lawsuit pending in federal court over whether gaming compacts expired or renewed.

"This entire process was unnecessary,” Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association Chairman Matthew Morgan said. “It's a waste of time. It's a waste of taxpayer resources.”

The Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association is the trade group that advocates for Oklahoma tribes in the gaming industry. The OIGA has been critical of the way Stitt approached tribes about new gaming compacts.

It all started last July when Governor Stitt proposed that Oklahoma tribes should pay the state more money for the exclusive rights to operate casinos in the state.

The Governor also asserted the 15-year compacts, signed by the tribes in 2004, expired at the end of 2019.

"When you get a Monopoly or a golden ticket to operate a casino, that's worth something,” Stitt said.

It's a position he still holds today.

"I would not be doing my job as Governor if I simply auto-renewed a bad agreement in perpetuity and that's what some people are pushing me to do,” Stitt said.

More tribes have joined in the federal lawsuit. A decision on whether they have been operating illegally could come soon.

"It’s been a process that has worked great for over 15 years,” Morgan said. “I'm not sure why he thinks he has a better system.”

“It’s nothing against the tribes, but as your Governor, I have to be fair with all four million Oklahomans,” Stitt said.

Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter said in a statement that he agrees with Supreme Court's decision.

Hunter said he hopes it advances the resolution of gaming compact negotiations.