Oklahoma Tribes Seek State Supreme Court Clarification on Gaming Compacts

Posted on: June 15, 2020, 11:12h. 

Last updated on: June 15, 2020, 11:43h.

Oklahoma tribes that operate Indian casinos with slot machines and table games are asking the state Supreme Court to provide clarification as to whether their Class III gaming compacts automatically renewed January 1.

Oklahoma tribes Kevin Stitt gaming compacts
Oklahoma tribes say Governor Kevin Stitt is overstepping his legal authority in tribal gaming matters. (Image: Sue Ogrocki/AP)

Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt (R) says the gaming contracts expired at the beginning of the year. The first-term governor has declared that the tribes are now conducting illegal gambling activities at their facilities. He says if they wish to continue operating casinos, they must negotiate with the state and come to new revenue sharing terms.

Oklahoma has 35 federally recognized Native American groups that operate Class III casinos. Only two – the Comanche Nation and Otoe-Missouria Tribe – have reached new gaming compacts.

Under the new terms, Stitt allowed the small tribes to actually share less gaming revenue with the state. The Cherokee, Chickasaw, and Choctaw nations, which accounted for approximately 35 percent of the casino taxes the state received during the latest fiscal year, have viewed the Comanche and Otoe-Missouria compacts as the governor’s way of trying to divide the tribal nations.

The US Interior Department approved the new compacts last week.

Court Guidance

Adding fuel to the tribal fire, Stitt’s deal with the Comanche Nation and Otoe-Missouri Tribe allows the Native American groups to build new casinos on land outside their traditional jurisdictions. Those casinos would be taxed at a higher rate. The compacts additionally allow the two tribes to conduct “event wagering” – aka sports betting.

Stitt has asked Oklahoma City federal judge Timothy DeGiusti to provide clarification as to his authority in approving new Indian gaming compacts, as well as expanding gaming, such as sports betting.

The Cherokee, Chickasaw, and Choctaw nations, joined by six other Oklahoma tribes, are asking DeGiusti to dismiss Stitt’s request and instead allow the Oklahoma Supreme Court to determine the governor’s authority regarding gaming matters.

In the tribes’ brief, attorneys representing the Native Americans say the governor’s actions “involves a dispute … that arises under the Oklahoma Constitution and is subject of a separate proceeding before the Oklahoma Supreme Court.”

The court document adds that the new gaming compacts reached “are irrelevant to the question of the Compacts’ renewal, which is the only issue before the Court in this action.”

Tribes Resume Operations

As the Oklahoma tribes continue their legal deliberations regarding their gaming compacts in court, the Indian casinos are getting back to business following a more than two-month shutdown by COVID-19.

WinStar World Casino and Resort, the world’s largest casino floor measuring 400,000 square feet, is back open at 50 percent capacity. Owned and operated by the Chickasaw Nation, the casino is operating 24 hours a day, and slot machines and table games are operational.

Slots have been reconfigured to maintain social distancing, and table games have limited seating. Poker is suspended until further notice.

Choctaw Nation and Cherokee Nation casinos have also reopened their doors with similar health safety measures in place.