Oklahoma Secretary of Native American Affairs Resigns Amid Tribal Casino Revenue Sharing Dispute

Posted on: December 25, 2019, 02:00h. 

Last updated on: December 24, 2019, 12:20h.

Oklahoma Secretary of Native American Affairs Lisa Billy resigned from the governor’s cabinet this week because of “unnecessary conflict” with the tribes.

Native American casino Oklahoma
Lisa Billy says the Oklahoma governor is unfairly going after Native American casino operators. (Image: The Journal Record)

Governor Kevin Stitt (R) is engulfed in a contentious battle with the state’s tribes regarding their expiring gaming compacts. He is demanding the various Native American groups that operate casinos sign amended contracts that would greatly increase the percentage of their slot machine and table game win they’re required to share with the government.

Billy didn’t go without giving the governor her last word.

In her resignation letter to Stitt, Billy explains her decision. “It has become increasingly clear you are committed to an unnecessary conflict that poses a real risk of lasting damage to the State-Tribal relationship and to our economy.”

“You have dismissed advice and facts that show the peril of your chosen approach and have remained intent on breaking faith with the Tribes, both by refusing to engage with the compact’s language and, more recently, by suggesting you would displace our Tribal partners with private, out-of-state commercial gaming operators. Your actions have shown that my continuing in service on your cabinet is unnecessary,” she concluded.

Tribes vs. State

Oklahoma’s federally recognized tribes operate dozens of casinos across the Sooner State. With their state gaming compacts, they’re authorized to offer guests slot machines and table games. A few of the powerful tribes include the nations of the Cherokee, Choctaw, Muscogee, and Chickasaw.

The gaming compacts, which are set to expire January 1, have required the tribes to pay four to six percent of their gross gaming revenue on slots and 10 percent on tables to the state. The slot tax is a sliding scale based on total win from the terminals.

Stitt believes those tax figures are far too low. He’s offered new compacts, but at a starting negotiating tax rate of 25 percent. The tribes say it’s all nonsense, as their current gaming compacts automatically renew under the present terms.

Governor Pressing On

Following Billy’s resignation, Stitt said his administration “has been and remains committed to working collaboratively with the Tribes. We regret that we won’t have the wisdom of Lisa Billy’s counsel in that endeavor.”

Stitt, a member of the Cherokee Nation himself, said last week he was “disappointed that the tribes turned our offer down and refused our requests to negotiate new compact terms that better address the parties’ changing needs.”

Stitt’s administration subsequently mailed out letters to all gaming tribes on Friday informing them that audits of their casino operations will resume January 2.

The objective of the investigation is to determine if the State has received all fees owed from the conduct of covered games pursuant to terms of the Model Tribal Gaming Compact,” Brandy Manek, director of budget, policy and gaming compliance for the state, said in the letter.

“At the completion of the investigation, the SCA (State Compliance Agency) will forward a written report, including any suspected violations of law or the Model Tribal Gaming Compact, to the Tribal Compliance Agency and the Office of the Governor,” Manek explained.