Oklahoma AG Says Gov. Stitt Had No Right to Promise Tribes Sports Betting, Asks DOI to Reject Compacts

Posted on: May 6, 2020, 01:50h. 

Last updated on: May 6, 2020, 04:42h.

Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt lacks the authority to enter into tribal gaming compacts that include sports betting, his attorney general contends, because this type of wagering has not been approved by the legislature.

Kevin Stitt Attorney General Conflict
Oklahoma AG Mike Hunter (background, left) says he believes Gov Stitt’s (right) promises to the two tribes could be damaging to their future relationship with the state (Image: KGOU).

That’s the opinion of the State Attorney General Mike Hunter, who has written to the US Department of the Interior (DOI) requesting it reject proposed compacts agreed upon in April between Stitt and the Comanche Nation and the Otoe-Missouria Tribe. The DOI’s Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) is the body responsible for authorizing gaming pacts between a state and a federally recognized tribe.

Hunter’s opinion throws the governor’s strategy with the tribes into jeopardy. Stitt has been trying to renegotiate casino revenue-share payments with Oklahoma’s 35 class III tribal gaming operators, each of whom signed a universal “model” compact back in 2004.

Legal Impasse

The governor wants to squeeze more money from the tribes. He says they’re offering illegal gambling by continuing to operate beyond January 1, 2020, the date he claims the model compact expired.

The tribes argue that language indicates the compacts were designed to automatically roll over for another 15 years on that date.

A group of tribes led by Cherokee, Chickasaw, and Choctaw nations launched legal action against the governor earlier this year and the case is currently in court-ordered mediation.

Stitt wants to move away from the idea of a universal compact in favor of individually negotiated agreements.

His successful negotiations with the economically challenged Comanche and Otoe-Missouria were a coup for the governor, given the legal impasse with the rest of Indian Country. But now those compacts hang by a thread.

‘Damaging the Relationship’

Stitt offered the two tribes sports betting, something he was not legally empowered to do, according to Hunter, who added that the new compacts failed to meet the requirements of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.

“How a state enters into a gaming compact with a tribe, including whether the governor may do so unilaterally in contravention of state statute, is a core concern of the state’s constitutional structure and is therefore a matter of state law,” wrote Hunter in a letter this week to Interior Secretary David Bernhardt.

“[The tribes] are an integral part of our community, history, culture, economy, and way of life,” he added. “Their importance demands the respect of knowing that, when state officials make promises to Indian tribes, those officials have the authority to bind the State to such agreements.”

“To do otherwise undermines the credibility and honor of the state when engaging in these sensitive inter-sovereign relations,” Hunter continued. “Unfortunately, I fear the agreements sent recently to you by the governor will only have the effect of damaging the relationship between the state and these two tribes.”

Stitt’s office described the new compacts Tuesday as “unquestionably legal.”