Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt, a citizen of the Cherokee Nation, published an op-ed Monday in the Tulsa World asserting that Oklahoma should renegotiate for a more substantial share of the billions of dollars that Tribal casinos generate each year, given the gaming industry’s maturation, he said. Read the full opinion piece: “Gov. Kevin Stitt: New gaming compacts must protect the interests of the tribes and the state.”
“In this case, that means sitting down with our Tribal partners to discuss how to bring these 15-year-old compacts to an agreement that reflects market conditions for the gaming industry seen around the nation today,” wrote Gov. Kevin Stitt. In Oklahoma, Tribal exclusivity agreements expire January 1. “The easiest thing to do is simply renew the existing compacts ‘as is,’ rather than do the hard work of closely reviewing and negotiating new compacts that reflect the state of affairs today,” he wrote. “I believe, however, that voters elected me to look at everything in state government with a fresh eye and, where necessary, make the difficult decisions that are in the best interest of all 4 million Oklahomans.”
Gov. Stitt’s announcement was met with strong Tribal opposition. “Coming out through an op-ed that was most Tribes’ first notice was very surprising,” Matt Morgan, chairman of the Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association (OIGA) and a citizen of the Chickasaw Nation, said Wednesday.
Morgan assumed the position of chairman of OIGA this month, a post he will hold until 2022. Morgan currently serves as the Director of Gaming Affairs for the Chickasaw Nation where he provides strategic counsel and policy advice to the chief executive of the Department of Commerce.
In his op-ed. Stitt noted that Oklahoma’s Tribal exclusivity fees are the lowest in the nation, whereas Tribes in other states pay closer to 20-25 percent, he stated. That’s not the case for Tribally owned casinos, the Associated Press reported: Fees in New Mexico hover between 2-10 percent; in Arizona, between 1-8 percent; and in neighboring Arkansas, fees will range from 13 to 20 percent.
Kimberly Teehee, vice president of government relations for Cherokee Nation Businesses, clarified in a statement:
“Comparing commercial tax rates in other states to exclusivity fees paid by Oklahoma Tribes is an apples-to-oranges comparison. Commercial casino operators do not pave roads in their states, build homes for people in their communities, provide college scholarships to needy students or keep hospitals open in rural, underserved communities.”
On Tuesday, when the Osage Casino Hotel announced its $28 million hotel expansion, Geoffrey Standing Bear, Osage Nation Principal Chief, weighed in on Stitt’s recent op-ed. Read: “Osage Casino Hotel Expands to Meet Demand, Breaking Ground on $28M Hotel Tower.”
“…It’s really important to remember that we can’t over-regulate and we can’t over-tax or put fees on these activities and expect them to be profitable. Because 100 percent of the profits of this enterprise goes to our people, for our culture, our education, our health. So when we tax on these enterprises, we’re taxing our people,” he said, according to the Tulsa World.