Judge Rejects Oklahoma Governor’s Clarity Request On Tribal Gaming Compacts

Posted on: June 17, 2020, 10:16h. 

Last updated on: June 17, 2020, 11:16h.

Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt’s (R) request for a federal judge to clarify what authorization the Sooner State governor possess in negotiating tribal gaming compacts has been dismissed.

Oklahoma gaming compacts Kevin Stitt
Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association Chairman Matthew Morgan is pleased a federal judge has thrown out Gov. Kevin Stitt’s tribal gaming compact request. (Image: Dick Pryor/KGOU)

Federal judge Timothy DeGiusti of the Western District of Oklahoma rejected Stitt’s appeal to provide guidance as to what legal powers he holds in determining tribal gaming matters.

“In the Court’s view, it would be inappropriate for a federal court to interfere in the resolution of such a sensitive state law matter, which implicates important concerns of sovereignty and comity that underlie many federal abstention doctrines,” DeGiusti declared in a four-page ruling.

“Any question that has arisen regarding the extent of Governor Stitt’s authority with respect to tribal gaming or gaming compacts, the powers granted to him by state law, or the balance of powers within the State’s internal government structure is not a matter for decision in this case,” DeGiusti continued.

Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter (R) has stated that the new gaming compacts Stitt has reached with the Otoe-Missouria Tribe and Comanche Nation oversteps his authority. Regardless, the US Interior Department signed off on the revenue sharing contracts earlier this month.

Tribal Approval 

Tribal leaders supported DeGiusti’s decision to dismiss Stitt’s federal appeal for clarification.

We thank Chief Judge DeGiusti for his appropriate ruling on this matter, which moves us one step closer to resolving this unnecessary situation,” Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association (OIGA) Chairman Matthew L. Morgan told Casino.org. “Oklahoma will always be our home, and Tribal Leaders will always strive to do what is right and best for all four million Oklahomans.”

Oklahoma has 35 tribes that operate Indian casinos. Stitt argues their 15-year tribal gaming compacts expired on January 1, 2020.

The two aforementioned tribes – Comanche and Otoe-Missouri – went ahead and struck new terms with the governor that allows them to actually share less of their Class III gaming win (slot machines and table games) with the state. The compacts additionally allow them to operate sportsbooks and build new casinos.

Stitt wants more money from the state’s three largest Native American groups – the Choctaw, Chickasaw, and Cherokee nations. Tribal leaders say Stitt is actively working to create division among the tribes. They also say the governor’s actions are meritless, as they believe their gaming compacts automatically renewed January 1 for another 15 years.

Case Continues

DeGiusti had previously ordered Stitt and the tribes to resolve their dispute in mediation. The process was delayed by the coronavirus and the governor asking the federal judge to suspend such mediation until his legal authority was clarified.

In his ruling this week, DeGiusti denied Stitt’s request that arbitration be suspended.

But with no compromise seeming in sight, a coalition of Oklahoma tribes, led by the Choctaws, Chickasaw, and Cherokees, has asked the Oklahoma Supreme Court to intervene. Oklahoma Senate President Pro Tempore Greg Treat (R) and House Speaker Charles McCall (R) support the conflict being resolved by the state’s highest court.