Judge Orders Mediation in Tribes’ Lawsuit Against Oklahoma Gov.

Western District Court Chief Judge Timothy DeGiusti has ordered Oklahoma gaming Tribes to participate in mediation with the State of Oklahoma and Gov. Kevin Stitt to seek a resolution to their gaming lawsuit. 

“Upon review of the case record, and having conducted a pretrial conference with counsel for all parties … the Court finds that negotiations within the framework of an early mediation proceeding provide a means for efficient initial case management in this matter,” DeGiusti wrote in a four-page order Monday.

Five of the largest gaming Tribes in the state—the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw and Citizen Potawatomi and Muscogee (Creek) Nations—sued the Governor, who insists the Tribes’ gaming compacts expired in the new year. 

For months, more than 30 gaming Tribes have been locked in disagreement with Stitt about whether their compacts automatically renewed on January 1, 2020, per terms articulated in their 15-year agreements, originally inked in 2004. 

The Tribes have continued to forward exclusivity fees to the state in 2020. “As always, Tribal governments are bound by the compact, and will continue to abide by it,” said Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association (OIGA) Chairman Matthew Morgan. 

Gov. Stitt has remained steadfast in his stance that the compacts are no longer valid and in his pursuit of renegotiation for a higher revenue rake of casino money, in exchange for Oklahoma Tribes’ exclusive right to operate Class III gaming.

Judge DeGiusti will select a mediator from lists of individuals proposed by the state and Tribes. He’s issued a hard deadline of March 31 for mediation to be completed. 

The mediator will work to find common ground between the two parties. 

“The mediation order entered by Judge DeGiusti is welcomed by the Governor and the State. The State’s legal team is committed to engaging in good-faith negotiations…” 

“It’s not unusual for a federal court to order the parties to engage in early mediation, and the Cherokee Nation will work with the court-appointed mediator through this process and toward a resolution,” Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. said in a statement Tuesday.

Cherokee Nation Attorney General Sara Hill underscored the Nation’s desire for a timely resoltuion. “We appreciate the opportunity to get these proceedings underway and look forward to working with the court to resolve the renewal dispute,” she added.

The governor’s communications director, Baylee Lakey, released the following statement: “The state’s legal team is committed to engaging in good-faith negotiations that will achieve a productive solution for the state’s future, for its 4 million residents and for all of Oklahoma’s sovereign Tribes,” she said.

OIGA Chairman Matthew Morgan echoed those sentiments. “(The) OIGA is pleased to see that the judge has moved quickly to set a timeline for the first steps in resolving our dispute with Gov. Stitt,” Morgan said. “We look forward to a timely decision on the case.”

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