Oklahoma Legislature Blocks Tribal Gaming Compact

Posted on: October 26, 2023, 05:23h. 

Last updated on: October 27, 2023, 11:33h.

A legislative committee in Oklahoma this week rejected a gaming compact the governor had negotiated with two tribes in the state.

Kevin Stitt
Gov. Kevin Stitt, above center, at a recent campaign rally in Oklahoma with his wife, Sarah Stitt. A state legislative committee this week rejected two tribal gaming compacts negotiated by the governor. (Image: AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

The move is another setback in Gov. Kevin Sitt’s long-running effort to modify the state’s approach to tribal gaming.

At a hearing Wednesday, members of Oklahoma’s Joint Committee on State Tribal Relations expressed concerns that the renegotiated gaming compacts would lead to casino expansion in Oklahoma County. That’s before voting down the compact agreements.

A representative for the governor, Trevor Pemberton, argued the compacts would represent an economic boon for the state by increasing the proceeds collected from casino gaming, compared to an earlier compact, according to press reports.

Sitt negotiated the compacts with the United Keetoowah Band and the Kialegee Tribal Town in 2020 as part of a larger renegotiation mired in controversy. The compacts would allow the tribes to offer sports betting, otherwise illegal in Oklahoma, and they would let new tribes open casinos in the state.

Tribes Disappointed

The committee’s decision came as a disappointment to the tribes, who were hoping that new casinos would deliver an economic boost to their communities.

We are disappointed that we didn’t get to tell our side of the story,” United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians Chief Joe Bunch said after the meeting, according to NonDoc, a local news site. “Today’s defeat, it hurt. It hurts big, particularly not to have the opportunity to discuss these issues.”

Sitt has defended the compacts as an effort to let smaller tribes open casinos, an opportunity currently available only to the largest tribes in the state.

“I don’t understand why these guys can’t game and the other guys can,” Sitt told reporters after Wednesday’s hearing, according to the Oklahoman. “They are federally recognized. I don’t think most Oklahomans know the difference or understand why wouldn’t we allow this tribe to game if 20 other tribes are able to game in the state of Oklahoma. That’s what’s a head-scratcher to me.”

Litigation Continues

The two compacts rejected Wednesday were among four Sitt negotiated in 2020. The Oklahoma Supreme Court has previously rejected them, and related litigation is ongoing in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

Oklahoma Attorney General Gentner Drummond has previously excoriated the governor’s handling of the tribal gaming issue and is seeking to take over representing the state in the ongoing litigation.

Drummond has accused the governor of wasting taxpayers’ money and misrepresenting the state in the case. The governor opposes Drummond’s involvement, and the two sides still argue the issue in court briefs.

The case was filed by the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Citizen Potawatomi, and Choctaw nations against the Interior Department, which oversees tribal gaming at the federal level, and other defendants.

At the hearing Wednesday, State Sen. Kay Floyd (D-Oklahoma City) cited the ongoing litigation as a reason to hold off on approving the compacts, according to local TV station KOKH Fox25.