Oklahoma AG Withdraws From Tribal Gaming Compact Negotiations, Gov. Stitt Takes Lead

Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter (left) and Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt

On the heels of Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter withdrawing from Tribal gaming compact discussions, Gov. Kevin Stitt has declared he’s taking the lead and plans to hire his own out-of-state legal team to assist with negotiation for a larger percentage of casino revenue.

While Stitt previously maintained that the compacts expire on January 1, he has now stated his intent to offer Tribes an extension. 

“The language in this extension will allow each side who signs on to the extension to retain their legal positions,” Stitt told the Associated Press. “I want business to continue as usual while we resolve this dispute.”

U.S. Solicitor General Seth P. Waxman, on retainer by the Chickasaw Nation, Choctaw Nation and Cherokee Nation, previously said the governor’s position is not defensible and that the compacts automatically renew for another 15-year term on January 1. 

Meanwhile some Tribal leaders have implied that they’re open to renegotiate their fees, as long as Stitt honors the compacts’ automatic renewal. 

Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association Chairman Matt Morgan has yet to see language regarding the extension, so he declined to comment on that specifically to the AP. 

“Tribal leadership has been clear from the beginning — if he acknowledges auto-renewal, we’ll sit down and negotiate with him. But clearly he does not want to do that,” Morgan said.

For months, Stitt has argued that Oklahoma Tribes should pay more for the exclusive right to operate Class III games in the state. The current rate of between 4-10% of Tribal gambling revenue should be on par with other states, he has held. 

 Gov. Stitt initially argued that Tribes in other states pay closer to 20-25 percent. That’s not actually the case for Tribally owned casinos. Fees in New Mexico hover between 2-10%; in Arizona, between 1-8%; and in neighboring Arkansas — home to at least one commercial casino owned and operated by a Tribe, and potentially more — fees will range from 13 to 20%. 

Tribes in Oklahoma have paid more than $1.5 billion in exclusivity fees to the state since 2006. More than $1.3 billion has been earmarked for public education. In 2017 alone, $198 million was paid to support Oklahoma education, according to a recent economic impact study

Overall, the 38 federally recognized Tribes in Oklahoma had a $12.9 billion impact on the state in 2017, directly employing more than 50,000 people and supporting a total of 96,000 jobs to Tribal citizens and non-citizens, accounting for more than $4.6 billion in wages and benefits to Oklahoma workers that year. Gaming was a leading economic driver making this possible.