Oklahoma Tribes Tell Keetoowah Cherokee and Kialegee to Butt Out of Casino Compact Dispute

Posted on: February 25, 2020, 02:56h. 

Last updated on: February 25, 2020, 10:14h.

Oklahoma tribal operators in a legal battle with Gov. Kevin Stitt over revenue-share payments say two tribes that do not operate class III gaming in the state have no business intervening in their lawsuit, The Oklahoman reports.

Oklahoma casino
The UKB was forced to shutter its class II gaming facility in 2013 in response to litigation by the Cherokee Nation. (Image: The Oklahoman)

The suit, filed December 31 by the Cherokee, Chickasaw, and Choctaw tribes, is asking a federal court to rule on whether their compacts with the state automatically rolled over on January 2020, as the tribes themselves contend.

Stitt wants to renegotiate the compacts to squeeze more money out of the tribes. He believes they have been operating class III gaming illegally since the beginning of the year when the first term of their compacts expired.

More than 30 tribes signed an identical “model compact” in 2004 that laid down the terms of their gaming exclusivity and the amount of money they would share with the state.

‘Invalid’ Claims

Around a dozen tribes have intervened to support the suit. These include the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians (UKB) and the Kialegee Tribal Town. But the plaintiffs have said the last two tribes’ involvement in the case is “invalid.”

“UKB and Kialegee lack justiciable claims that can be brought in this Court, since UKB lacks a valid Compact that would give rise to a cause of action, and neither UKB nor Kialegee faces any ongoing violations of federal rights by the Defendant,” wrote the plaintiffs in a February 18 filing.

“UKB and Kialegee do not conduct gaming pursuant to IGRA (the Indian Gaming and Regulatory Act) Compacts and are not developing any projects to engage in gaming.”

Casino Plans Thwarted

Both tribes are federally recognized – a precursor for establishing class III gaming operations on their lands. The UKB ran a class II electronic bingo hall in Tahlequah until 2013, which it was forced to shutter following litigation from the Cherokee Nation.

Meanwhile, the Kialegee has long harbored ambitions to operate a gaming establishment, but has also been thwarted by local legal opposition.

The two tribes argue their intervention is necessary because they have a “a significant interest in the outcome of this case,” and because it could “impact their sovereign rights under federal law,” according to their motion to intervene.

Moreover, the confidential nature for forthcoming court-ordered mediation will “prevent the Tribe[s] from ascertaining how [their] rights are being defended,” they argue.

Oklahoma Tribes Siding with Stitt?

But the UKB and the Kialegee are personae non gratae as far as the plaintiffs are concerned, because they signed a controversial compact extension agreement with Stitt late last year. The two tribes were the only signatories to the agreement, which would allow tribes to continue offering class III gaming beyond the January 1 cutoff. This, despite not being class III gaming operators.

At the time, UKB Chief Joe Bunch said in an official statement this was in “an effort to avoid a battle with the state over the legality of gaming, as we look forward to establishing economic development opportunities in the coming year.”

But to the plaintiffs, it was tantamount to conceding Stitt is right in his assessment of the nature of the compacts.

They note “the defendant” – i.e. Stitt – praised the “honesty and boldness” of the two tribes for recognizing the contested expiration date, which would “enable the parties to negotiate a compact that better accounts for the differing needs of tribes throughout the state and the state’s interests in preserving the substantial exclusivity without a cloud of legal uncertainty.”

The plaintiffs argue the UKB’s and Kialegee’s position is critically different from their own in that “their rights are not currently being violated by the Governor,” nor do they request any specific relief against the state.