Oklahoma tribes score federal court win in gaming dispute

Published: Jul. 28, 2020 at 6:38 PM CDT
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DURANT, Oklahoma (KXII) - Nine Oklahoma tribes scored a big win in federal court Tuesday against Governor Kevin Stitt’s push to renegotiate the agreement that allows them to have casinos.

The ordeal started when Gov. Stitt requested to renegotiate exclusivity fees, the money the tribes pay the state in revenue, in order to operate their casinos.

He said the compact expired on January 1, 2020, meaning certain casino-style gambling would be illegal.

But the judge ruled in the tribes favor, saying the compact automatically renewed.

“We’re excited about it, but yet, nothing has really changed for us. But it’s nice to understand that the rhetoric is behind us,” said Choctaw Nation Chief Gary Batton.

Batton said the process has come full circle.

“We feel like that we’ve been put into question, and now it’s been proven that we were right,” he said.

Since 2019, when Stitt requested the tribes pay higher fees to the state, Batton said the legal dispute has consumed time, manpower, money and caused uncertainty in their business.

“It’s great to have that behind us. It’s sad that we’ve had to go through all of this rhetoric to get to where we are today to confirm that’s been our stance all along,” Batton said.

In December, the Cherokee, Chickasaw and Choctaw Nations sued Stitt after he claimed their gaming compact expired on January 1.

Several tribes joined the lawsuit, saying the compact automatically renewed for another 15-year term.

Tuesday a federal judge ruled that per the wording in the compact, the tribes met the requirements for the agreement to renew.

“We’re not just going to take this win and go we won and we’re out of the picture. We’re still going to be community partners. If there’s things good for Oklahoma and Texas, we’re going to be at the table and have open ears to listen to that,” Batton said.

He says tribal leaders are willing to talk negotiations when it comes to fees, and they would be interested in working out agreements for new types of gambling.

But he said it has to benefit tribal members, the state and communities before they’ll consider.

“If it’s just to raise the fees, we’re not in discussion for that. That’s the reason why this ruling was put in place,” Batton said.

In a statement, Gov. Stitt said, “I am deeply disappointed by the federal court’s ruling. It confirms my fears, and the fears of many fellow Oklahomans, that the State entered into a poorly negotiated deal and now we must bear the cost of this mistake.”

He goes onto say he’s learned only a few tribes receive most of the benefit from gaming, so he wanted to level the playing field.

He said in a new gaming compact, the state could raise rates up to 13 percent for casino-gaming operations and spur more revenue for public schools.

Copyright 2020 KXII. All rights reserved.

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