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Oklahoma Federal Judge Favors Tribes in Gaming Compacts Dispute

A federal judge in Oklahoma has ruled that 15-year tribal gaming compacts in the state renewed automatically in January 2020. 

Numerous tribal operators in the state entered a dispute with State Governor Kevin Stitt earlier this year when he deemed that their compacts expired and needed to be re-negotiated. 

Stitt had been in the process of renegotiating compacts with a selection of Oklahoman tribes, which had led to further discontent. 

The Federal Court’s decision follows on from another case against Stitt, which had gone to the Supreme Court and concluded earlier this month. 

Licenses renewed automatically, according to the court 

A handful of tribal gaming compacts in Oklahoma had come into play back in 2004, with their 15-year term running through to the end of last year. 

Fast forward to New Year’s Eve 2019 and this is where the lengthy dispute began. Stitt felt that all of the tribal gaming compacts did not renew automatically. Because of this, each operator needed to renegotiate the condition of theirs individually – in his eyes. 

This did not go down well with the tribes, who sued the Governor on December 31st last year. The Cherokee, Choctaw and Chickasaw Nations originally filed the dispute, before six other tribes joined them later. 

The tribes and State Governor were originally given until May 31st to solve their differences. And on Tuesday, US District Court Judge Timothy DeGiusti sided with the tribes and felt that Stitt’s assumptions were incorrect. 

Tribes happy with the verdict; Stitt not very pleased 

The tribal gaming compacts in Oklahoma state the games that operators are allowed to offer, as well as the percentage of gross gaming revenue that must be paid in tax. 

Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association Chair Matthew Morgan expressed his delight at the court’s decision and said the following. 

“We appreciated that the court moved quickly to confirm… the plain language of our intergovernmental agreements mean what they mean, and here, those words mean our gaming compacts automatically renewed January 1, 2020.”

As was reported by the Associated Press, Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. was also happy with the verdict. He said: 

“Everything in our compact now remains the same, and we hope we can move forward and build a relationship built on respect with Gov. Stitt in the future.

“Tribal gaming in this state will continue to be strong, not only for tribes, but for all of Oklahoma, contributing vital education dollars into our public schools and bolstering health care, roads and communities.”

Stitt, on the other hand, wasn’t as happy about DeGiusti’s decision. He said the below. 

“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.

“The federal court determined that the 2004 Gaming Compact auto-renewed for 15 years because of an action taken by an agency’s unelected board to reissue licenses for gaming at horse racing tracks.”

Second tribal gaming compact loss for Stitt this month 

The Oklahoman Governor was also on the losing side of a Supreme Court verdict, which related to a pair of compacts he signed in April. 

Compacts were agreed with the Otoe-Missouria and Comanche Nation tribes, in which games not legalized by state law were included. This included sports betting. 

Along with resulting in the two tribes having their OIGA memberships suspended (they can reapply to join from the beginning of next year), it also led to more criticism from the state’s gaming industry. 

Despite Attorney General disapproving of the compacts, the Department of the Interior approved them. However, the Supreme Court voted 7-1 against and snuffed them out. They believed that Stitt didn’t have the authority to introduce prohibited games in that manner. 

Following the Federal Court’s ruling, Stitt also spoke about the Supreme Court verdict. 

“This decision, coupled with the recent US Supreme Court ruling on McGirt, means Oklahomans have important questions to face regarding our future.

“Among other things, we will need to explore the challenges of who will pay taxes and who won’t, of how we will guarantee a competitive marketplace, and of how the State will fund core public services into the next generation. 

“In short, we face a question of constitutional proportions about what it means to be the state of Oklahoma and how we regulate and oversee all business in our state.”

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