Federal Judge Rules Against Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt Tribal Gaming Compacts

Posted on: July 28, 2020, 06:36h. 

Last updated on: July 29, 2020, 09:39h.

A federal judge has ruled that the Class III gaming compacts that allow 35 Native American tribes to operate slot machines and table games in Oklahoma automatically renewed on January 1.

Oklahoma gaming compacts tribe
Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt has lost his fight to have tribes share more of their casino winnings with the state government. (Image: Sue Ogrocki/AP)

The ruling is a major blow to Gov. Kevin Stitt (R), who has been in a contentious fight with the state’s larger tribes. The first-term governor, a member of the Cherokee Nation himself, believes tribes should share more of their casino winnings with the state, and argued in court that their compacts expired on January 1.

Chief Judge Timothy DeGiusti of the Western District of Oklahoma said Stitt has no case challenging the compact expirations. The governor wasted no time in response.

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,” Stitt said in a statement. “The federal court determined that the 2004 Gaming Compact auto-renewed for 15 years because of an action taken by an agency’s unelected board to reissue licenses.”

Under the compacts, which are now legal for another 15 years through 2035, Oklahoma tribes operating Class III gaming share between four and 10 percent of their gross gaming revenue (GGR) with the state. In the latest disclosed fiscal year (2018), that totaled $138.6 million.

Compact Language

Stitt made the case that he had the authority to negotiate new terms with the tribes. They argued otherwise, and Judge DeGiusti agreed.

According to the legal gaming compacts posted on the US Department of the Interior Indian Affairs website, the wording seems to be on the judge’s and tribes’ side.

For instance, the Chickasaw Nation, which accounted for more than $47.87 million of the 2018 gaming tax dollars, the legal terms agree that January 1, 2020, marked an automatic renewal date.

This Compact shall have a term which will expire on January 1, 2020, and at that time, if organization licensees or others are authorized to conduct electronic gaming in any form other than parimutuel wagering on live horse racing pursuant to any governmental action of the state or court order following the effective date of this Compact, the Compact shall automatically renew for successive additional fifteen-year terms,” the compact states.

Because Oklahoma has not authorized commercial gambling of any form, the above language seems to suggest that the compacts should indeed renew.

Tribes Celebrate

Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association Chair Matthew Morgan welcomed Judge DeGiusti’s verdict.

“We appreciated that the court moved quickly to confirm the plain language of our intergovernmental agreements mean what they mean,” said Morgan.

The Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled 7-1 last week that Stitt indeed overstepped his legal authority in negotiating new compacts. Stitt had reached new gaming compacts with four Oklahoma tribes.

The state’s highest court had deemed two of the compacts invalid, including one reached with the Otoe-Missouria Tribe and Comanche Nation, which granted them sports betting privileges and the opportunity to build new casinos.