Tribal Casinos Still Operating in Oklahoma: Three Tribes Filed a Lawsuit, Two Signed Extensions

New Year’s Day has come and gone, and Tribes are still operating casinos across Oklahoma. While that sends a unified message to Gov. Kevin Stitt, at least two Tribes — the the Kialegee Tribal Town and the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians — have signed the eight-month extension contract offered by the state, submitting to compact renegotiations before the end of August. 

“After much discussion, it was decided to sign in an effort to avoid a battle with the state over the legality of gaming as we look forward to establishing economic development opportunities in the coming year,” said UKB Chief Joe Bunch in a statement. “We have not taken any actions opposing the decisions of other tribes to seek legal clarification on whether the compact automatically renews. Our signing acknowledges that there are differences in opinion on this matter between the tribes and the state.”

Meanwhile, the Cherokee, Choctaw and Chickasaw Nations have filed a federal lawsuit against Stitt. 

On December 31, 2019, officials announced that three of the largest Tribes in Oklahoma filed a federal lawsuit to seek judicial declaration that the their compacts with the state auto-renewed for an additional 15-year term on January 1, 2020.  The Nations’ joint suit does not address revenue-share rates but rather focuses on the terms denoting automatic renewal.

Stitt’s accusations that casinos will be operating illegally in 2020 has caused concern among vendors. Other ramifications include employee fear over job security. 

As Choctaw Nation Chief Gary Batton stated, “The Governor’s stance on the gaming compact has created uncertainty and has been seen as a threat to our employees and our business partners. We see this legal action as the most viable option to restore the clarity and stability the Tribes and Oklahoma both deserve by obtaining a resolution that our compact does automatically renew. As elected leaders, it is our responsibility to uphold the compact, honor the will of the Oklahomans who approved State Question 712 and the Federal law that defines our relationship with the State on these matters.” 

Cherokee Nation Chief Chuck Hoskin, Jr., reiterated the Cherokee Nation commitment “to being a good partner in our community and with the State of Oklahoma as we have done across two centuries and will continue to do as a peaceful, sovereign nation.” 

Chief Hoskin continued, “Governor Stitt has made comments about ‘uncertainty that exists’ regarding Class III gaming after January 1, threats to our casino vendors and their livelihoods and demands for redundant audits. We have little choice but to ask a Federal judge to confirm the compact’s automatic renewal on Jan. 1.” 

Chickasaw Nation Governor Bill Anoatubby said, “We have a solemn duty to protect the sovereign rights of our Tribal Nations as well as the interests of our citizens. While we prefer negotiation to litigation, the Federal court is now the only reasonable alternative to bring legal certainty to this issue. We remain hopeful we will continue to have a productive and mutually beneficial relationship with the State of Oklahoma once we have resolved this issue.”

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