OKLAHOMA CITY — With the state’s tribes rebuffing a request for arbitration on gaming compacts, Gov. Kevin Stitt is attempting to take his case for higher exclusivity fees straight to the voters. At a press conference Thursday afternoon, Gov. Stitt claimed that the leadership of the state’s gaming tribes will not communicate with him about the future of gaming compacts after Jan. 1 and asked Oklahoma voters to “side with him” in the ongoing discussions. “My job is to do what’s best for all four million Oklahomans,” he said.
AUTOMATICALLY RENEW VS. RENEGOTIATION
As worded, Oklahoma’s tribal gaming compacts includes language that says the compacts automatically renew if certain prerequisites are met. The compact also includes a provision that either side can request that the terms be renegotiated if at least six months notice is given. Earlier this month, leaders with the state’s 35 gaming tribes notified Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter of their refusal to pursue arbitration over the matter. “This is not about the tribes,” Stitt said Thursday. “This is about the casino industry.” In accordance with the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, Class III compacted games in Oklahoma include slot machines, craps, roulette and house-banked table games, such as blackjack. Class II gaming, which includes electronic bingo and pull-tab games, is not subject to the compact. The current compacts do not include provisions to allow for sports betting or online gambling.
Additionally, the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act requires the Department of Interior to approve any amendments to state-tribal gaming compacts, including the 2018 addition of ball and dice games after the teacher walkout. During Thursday’s press conference, Gov. Stitt declined to give a specific percentage rate sought by state officials, but repeatedly referenced the exclusivity fees paid by gaming tribes in Connecticut. The Constitution State has two tribally operated casinos, which pay 25% of their slot machine revenue to the state.
By comparison, the exclusivity fees for Oklahoma’s 131 tribally operated casinos max out at 10%, prompting a $139 million payout to state coffers in 2018 alone, an increase of 3.48% from the previous fiscal year. “There’s no difference between a slot machine in Connecticut and a slot machine in Oklahoma,” Stitt said. Addressing reporters outside the Capitol building later Thursday afternoon, Chickasaw Nation citizen Matthew Morgan, the executive director of the Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association, said Gov. Stitt mischaracterized both the discussions among state and tribal leaders, as well the nature of tribal gaming, which is run by tribal governments rather than commercial operators.
Additionally, he said, they still have not received a formal renegotiation proposal from the state – just talk of wanting to completely overhaul gaming compacts. “There is plenty of opportunity to move forward, but Gov. Stitt needs to read the entire compact first before he comes to the table,” Morgan said. In the meantime, despite Gov. Stitt’s declaration that compacts are weeks away from expiring, both Morgan and Stephen Greetham, senior counsel for the Chickasaw Nation, said that tribal gaming operations will continue statewide come Jan. 1.
“If Gov. Stitt wants to force the issue – and if so, I’d have to ask why and what purpose it would serve - he’ll have to take it to court,” Greetham said. “He’ll have to try to get some kind of order to shut it down. Barring that, we’ll continue to generate rev- enue, pay our revenue to the state and continue to grow, just like we have over the last 15 years.”