OKLAHOMA CITY — Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter is asking the federal government to reject gaming compacts signed last month by Gov. Kevin Stitt and two Oklahoma tribes.
Hunter’s office released a letter sent to Secretary of Interior David Bernhardt, along with an official opinion on the compacts’ legality that was jointly requested by state Senate President Pro Tempore Greg Treat and Speaker of the House Charles McCall. If Hunter’s opinion is not challenged and overturned in a court of law, it is effectively considered to be the law in Oklahoma, and anyone violating that opinion-law could face state legal ramifications.
Specifically, at issue is whether the governor has the authority to allow for house-banked card games and sports betting, two provisions included in the agreements signed by the Comanche Nation and Otoe-Missouria Tribe on April 21. Neither are currently allowed for in Oklahoma state statute.
The compacts specifically allow each tribe to have sportsbooks at two brick-and-mortar locations, as well as allow for the framework for mobile online betting. That revenue would be subject to an additional 1.1% fee on top of the exclusivity fee payments already paid for Class III games, such as craps and roulette. Additionally, any sports betting vendors brought on board by either tribe, such as Draft Kings or Fan Duel, would have to first be approved by the state.
In his letter, Hunter wrote that such a unilateral move is in violation of Oklahoma’s State Tribal Gaming Act and therefore makes the compacts noncompliant with the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. “Because the Governor lacks authority to ‘enter into’ the agreements he has sent to you, those agreements fail to meet the requirements of IGRA to constitute a valid gaming compact under federal law,” Hunter wrote. “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.”
The new compacts must be approved by the Department of Interior before they take effect. As per federal law, once submitted by the state, the federal government has 45 days to act on the compacts, or they are automatically considered approved. Under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, the Department of Interior has the authority to reject a compact if it violates any federal law, including IGRA itself. The legal opinion issued with the letter does not take a position on whether the tribes’ previous compacts are still valid.
Both the Otoe-Missouria Tribe and Comanche Nation were signatories to the model state-gaming compact, which is currently the subject of ongoing federal litigation in the Western District of Oklahoma. Thanks to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, all of the Comanche Nation’s casinos are currently closed. Headquartered in Red Rock, the Otoe-Missouria Tribe reopened one of its properties, Newkirk’s Seven Clans First Council Casino, on Saturday on a by-invitation-only basis with reduced capacity and hours.
In a joint statement issued Tuesday afternoon, Otoe-Missouria Tribe Chairman John Shotton and Comanche Nation Chairman William Nelson said the agreements they signed with Gov. Stitt are above board. “Our compacts are legal and were negotiated in good faith. The political fight between the governor and the attorney general over sports betting is not our concern and does not impact the legality of the compacts. We look forward to the approval of the compacts, which are good for our tribal members, our local communities and the state as a whole.”