Okla. Supreme Court Rules Gov. Stitt Overstepped Authority, Gaming Compacts Invalid

Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt announcing the Tribal-state gaming compacts he signed with the Otoe-Missouria Tribe and Comanche Nation in April

Tribes argue Oklahoma Supreme Court lacks jurisdiction to invalidate the compacts, approved by the U.S. Department of Interior in June.

The Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that the two gaming compacts Gov. Kevin Stitt negotiated in April with two Tribes, the Comanche Nation and the Otoe-Missouria Tribe, are not valid under state law. 

In its 7-1 decision (with one justice recusing), the high court determined Gov. Stitt lacked authority to unilaterally approve the new gaming compacts, which contained language permitting house-banked card games and sports betting, otherwise not legal in Oklahoma. 

“The limited question before this Court is whether Governor Stitt had the authority to bind the State with respect to the new tribal gaming compacts with the Comanche Nation and Otoe-Missouria Tribes. We hold he did not,” Justice James Winchester wrote in the majority opinion

The lawsuit challenging the compacts was brought by House Speaker Charles McCall (R-Atoka) and Senate President Pro Tempore Greg Treat (R-OKC), centering on the lack of authorization of sports wagering and additional Class III games — necessary before the compacts could be signed into law, the Republican legislative leaders argued. 

The opinion concludes that the Comanche Nation and the Otoe-Missouria Tribe’s gaming compacts are invalid under state law: 

“The tribal gaming compacts Governor Stitt entered into with the Comanche Nation and Otoe-Missouria Tribes are invalid under Oklahoma law. The State of Oklahoma is not and cannot be legally bound by those compacts until such time as the Legislature enacts laws to allow the specific Class III gaming at issue, and in turn, allowing the Governor to negotiate additional revenue.” 

Comanche Nation Chairman William Nelson Sr. and Otoe-Missouria Chairman John Shotton have countered the Oklahoma Supreme Court determination, and stated their intent to proceed under the provisions of the compacts, though not offering games currently not legal under Oklahoma law.

“Our compact is legal under federal law and is a matter of our tribal sovereignty. We intend to continue operating under the terms of the compact outside of offering games not currently authorized by state law,” Chairman Nelson said in a statement. “Our compact is legal and we are prepared to legally invoke the compact’s severability clause if necessary.”

Otoe-Missouria Chairman John Shotton has argued that the Oklahoma Supreme Court lacks “jurisdiction to invalidate our compact,” articulating that the Otoe-Missouria Tribe never intended to offer the Class III games prior to state legislative approval. 

“The Oklahoma Supreme Court doesn’t have jurisdiction to invalidate our compact when state and federal law dictates that our compact is legal. We have said all along we do not plan to offer house-banked card and table games and event wagering until they are authorized by state law,” Shotton said. “Indeed, this condition was part of the compact, and it was unfortunately overlooked by the court. We will continue to operate under the remaining terms of our compact pursuant to the severability clause of the compact, and we will refrain from operating any game that is not authorized under state law.”

Meanwhile, a second lawsuit pends before the Oklahoma Supreme Court regarding the legality of two more Tribal gaming compacts that Gov. Stit inked with the United Keetowah Band of Cherokee Indians and the Kialegee Tribal Town in early July.