Oklahoma Tribes Seek Federal Intervention in Dismissing New Gaming Compacts

Posted on: August 10, 2020, 11:16h. 

Last updated on: August 10, 2020, 02:46h.

Four tribes in Oklahoma have filed a lawsuit in DC asking federal officials to intervene in the gaming compact dispute in their home state.

Oklahoma tribes gaming compacts Kevin Stitt
Oklahoma tribes want a federal court to say Gov. Kevin Stitt’s new gaming compacts are invalid. (Image: Sarah Phipps/The Oklahoman)

Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt’s (R) mission to collect more tax revenue from tribal gaming operations has led to a divide among Native American groups. The first-term Republican has signed four new gaming compacts.

Last month, the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled Stitt overstepped his legal authority by striking new revenue-sharing terms with the Comanche Nation and Otoe-Missouria Tribe. Those two contracts included authorization from the governor for the tribes to build new casinos, but share a higher rate of their gaming win with the state, and operate new forms of gambling, including house-banked table games and sports betting.

Following the state’s highest court’s rejection of the Comanche and Otoe-Missouria compacts, the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, and Citizen Potawatomie nations filed a lawsuit late last week seeking a ruling against the US Department of the Interior (DOI). The Interior Department allowed the two gaming compacts to take effect. The lawsuit was filed in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia.

While the Oklahoma Supreme Court has declared those agreements invalid under Oklahoma law, their validity under federal law must also be addressed to avoid damage to the integrity of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act,” attorneys for the tribes said in a statement. “The tribes filed this suit to protect IGRA’s established framework and the tribal operations conducted under it.”

Stitt also struck gaming compacts with Kialegee Tribal Town and Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians, though those agreements did not authorize sports betting or house-banked table games.

Federal Dilemma

In June, the DOI said the Comanche and Otoe-Missouri compacts had been “deemed approved.”

“I am extremely grateful to learn that these new gaming compacts have been deemed approved by the federal government,” Stitt said at the time. But Oklahoma’s larger and powerful tribes, which are also responsible for the lion’s share of casino money the state takes in each year, argue their 15-year gaming compacts reached back in 2005 automatically renewed January 1, 2020.

The Oklahoma Supreme Court said in its ruling that only the legislature must enact laws to allow new forms of Class III gaming. The 7-1 majority also concluded that the Oklahoma Legislature must be included in negotiating new revenue-sharing terms.

The DOI and Bureau of Indian Affairs have yet to respond to the tribes’ lawsuit asking the federal court to rule that the Interior Department violated federal laws by allowing the two compacts to be approved. Meanwhile, Otoe-Missouria Tribe Chairman John R. Shotton told Casino.org federal legal decisions to supersede state rulings.

“The Oklahoma Supreme Court doesn’t have jurisdiction to invalidate our compact when state and federal law dictates that our compact is legal,” the chairman opined.

Stitt Attorneys Defend Compacts

As for Stitt’s new compacts with Kialegee Tribal Town and United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians, the governor’s attorneys say they should be deemed approved.

“[The gaming compacts] do not include sports betting or house-banked card and table games,” Stitt attorneys said in filings with the Oklahoma Supreme Court. “The governor is vested with the authority to enter compacts which do not conflict with the State Tribal Gaming Act and/or state criminal laws.”