Oklahoma's double down bet

Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt (Campaign photo)

Oklahoma governor threatens $7.2 billion industry

Sean Murphy

Associated Press

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Oklahoma’s new Republican governor doubled down Thursday on his position that the state’s gambling compacts with Indian tribes expire at the end of the year, setting up a potential legal showdown with some of the state’s most powerful entities.

Gov. Kevin Stitt said at a press conference that communications with the tribes broke down late last month and he wanted to present his case to the Oklahoma people.

“The fact of the matter is they have refused to communicate with me,” Stitt said. “This is going to cause extreme uncertainty if we don’t have a new compact before Jan. 1, 2020.”

The two sides disagree over the key issue of whether the compacts automatically renew for another 15-year term on Jan. 1 if the two sides can’t reach an agreement.

Stitt suggested the state’s current rate of between 4 percent and 10 percent of tribal gambling revenue should be larger.

Tribal leaders have said they’re willing to renegotiate the rates, but not until Stitt acknowledges the compacts automatically renew if a deal can’t be reached.

“The tribes are unified in their position that the compacts renew and they’re going to continue to operate,” said Stephen Greetham, senior attorney for the Chickasaw Nation, one of the most powerful in the state. “If Gov. Stitt wants to force the issue ... he would have to go to court and try to get some kind of order to shut the casinos down. Barring that, we’re just going to continue to operate and we’re going to continue remitting our revenue-share payments to the state and we’re going to continue to grow, as we have for the last 15 years.”

Casino gambling is a booming industry in Oklahoma, with more than 130 casinos now dotting the state since voters approved a gambling expansion in 2004.

Under the compacts, tribes pay the state “exclusivity fees” in exchange for the exclusive right to operate casinos. Those fees generated nearly $139 million for the state last year, most of it earmarked for education, on roughly $2.3 billion in revenue from games covered under the compacts.

Follow Sean Murphy at www.twitter.com/apseanmurphy

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