Another Tribe Joins the Lawsuit Against Gov. Stitt

The Citizen Potawatomi Nation owns and operates Grand Casino Hotel and Resort (pictured) and FireLake Casino.

Gov. Kevin Stitt has responded to a federal lawsuit filed by the Chickasaw, Choctaw and Cherokee Nations by asking the judge to declare Class III gaming illegal in Oklahoma and shut it down.

His response has only triggered increasing solidarity among the state’s Tribes. 

On Friday, the Citizen Potawatomi Nation joined the lawsuit. The Tribe asked the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma to allow it to intervene.

The lawsuit seeks a declaratory judgment that a clause in the Tribal-state compacts honored automatic renewal of the compacts on January 1, 2020. The complaint, filed December 31, 2019, can be found here.

The Muscogee (Creek) Nation has similarly authorized a motion to intervene — though court records indicate it has not been filed yet. 

Citizen Potawatomi Nation (CPN) Chairman John Barrett stated, “To say that the Tribes aren’t paying their fair share is a misrepresentation of all that we do for Oklahoma. We contribute 100% of our Tribal revenue to Oklahomans through infrastructure, education, economic development and more. The positive impact that CPN has on our community is many times more beneficial than a few more dollars in gaming (fees) to the state.”

The 30,000-member Citizen Potawatomi operates two casinos and additionally owns the largest Tribally owned national bank in the United States, First National Bank & Trust Co. In addition to Grand Casino Hotel and Resort, FireLake Casino and the bank, the Citizen Potawatomi Nation owns multiple entertainment venues, retail shops, fuel and convenience stores, golf courses, museums and hotels.

Employing 2,400 people, the Citizen Potawatomi Nation is the largest employer in Pottawatomie County. Beyond providing emergency 911 services for free to most of Pottawatomie County, the Tribe has contributed $1.7 million in scholarships to students at Oklahoma universities and has donated another $2 million to local charities.

“We are committed to remaining a strong partner with the State of Oklahoma,” Barrett said. “We do that through our Tribal enterprises, which create an economic impact of more than $530 million, and through programs and initiatives that provide healthcare, address infrastructure needs and fund education.” 

Stitt has implied that, in the event he loses the lawsuit, he may resort to other strategies — such as inviting commercial casinos to the state for $350 million a year in exchange for the right to operate in Oklahoma. “Would they rather have $350 million? Or would they rather have $137 million? So, let’s just make sure this is a fair deal. I’m not trying to hurt the gaming industry,” said Stitt, attempting to reference what Tribes paid the state in 2018 in exclusivity fees (the actual amount was nearly $139 million, not $137 million), and speaking of Oklahomans. 

Existing Tribal compacts require Oklahoma Tribes to pay between 4-10% of Tribal gambling revenue in “exclusivity fees” to the state. Tribes in Oklahoma have paid more than $1.5 billion in exclusivity fees to the state since 2006. Gov. Stitt is determined to get a larger piece of the pie. 

On Thursday, Gov. Stitt reiterated that Tribes still have the option to sign an eight-month compact extension under the premise that the Tribe and state will resume compact negotiations near the end of that agreement. 

RELATED: Oklahoma Tribes Stand Firm Against Gov. Stitt’s Proposal for an 8-Month Compact Extension 

But the state’s largest Tribes — the Chickasaw, Choctaw and Cherokee Nations, now joined by the Citizen Potawatomi — aren’t backing down. 

Once the lawsuit is resolved, they’ll be open to discussing exclusivity fee rates with the state legislature. 

“Once we get through the thick of the litigation — we’re confident in our position — when there are future negotiations, chances are they’re going to be led by the legislature, not by Gov. Stitt, mostly because of the damage he’s doing to the Tribal-state relationship right now,” said Chickasaw Nation General Counsel Stephen Greetham, reported Public Radio Tulsa