Oklahoma tribes: 'We stand united'

Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. speaks during a news conference with tribal leaders from 32 tribes to speak out against Gov. Kevin Stitt's stand on gaming compact negotiations Thursday, Dec. 19, 2019 in Tulsa, Okla. Leaders from nearly every Oklahoma-based Indian tribe that has a gambling compact with the state on Thursday rejected Gov. Kevin Stitt's offer to extend the compacts for an additional eight months.(Mike Simons/Tulsa World via AP)

Both sides point to federal court as the next step

Sean Murphy

Associated Press

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Leaders from nearly every Oklahoma-based Indian tribe that has a gambling compact with the state on Thursday rejected Gov. Kevin Stitt's offer to extend the compacts for an additional eight months.

Flanked by leaders from 32 separate tribes, Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association Chairman Matthew Morgan said the tribes are united in their rejection of Stitt's offer.

"We stand united today against the proposed extension by Gov. Stitt as utterly unnecessary, given the automatic renewal," Morgan said.

“Unlike contracts, compacts are solemn agreements between two sovereigns that remain in force until both parties agree otherwise,” said Chickasaw Governor Bill Anoatubby. “Former Solicitor General Seth Waxman issued a powerful legal opinion that reinforces our confidence that the compacts automatically renew on January 1."

 “Tribes value the relationship we have with the State,” Muscogee (Creek) Nation Principal Chief James Floyd said. “History shows we can accomplish a lot for all four million Oklahomans by working together rather than opposing each other.”

“Tribal leaders remain open to negotiations about exclusivity fee rates,” Choctaw Chief Gary Batton said. “We have not received a formal proposal from the state. We have always been open to a fair and reasonable discussion on rates and still are today as long as Governor Stitt is willing to honor the plain language of our existing agreement, which includes automatic renewal.”

Stitt and the tribes are locked in a disagreement about whether the 15-year compacts between the tribes and the state expire on Jan. 1. Stitt says they do and wants to renegotiate for the state to get a larger slice of casino revenue.

But the tribes contend all the requirements have been met for the compacts to automatically renew on Jan. 1 for another 15 years. Morgan said Oklahoma-based casinos will be open for business as usual on Jan. 1.

Stitt said he refused to give up hope.

"I am disappointed that the tribes turned our offer down and refused our requests to negotiate new compact terms that better address the parties' changing needs," Stitt said in a statement Thursday. "I will continue to work to protect the state's interests, and I hope that those running the casino industry will negotiate with the state in good faith as these compacts demand."

Both sides are increasingly signaling that the dispute is likely to end up in federal court. Stitt said Tuesday that he is finalizing an agreement with a law firm experienced in tribal litigation.

Oklahoma's current gambling compacts call for the tribes to pay between 4 percent and 10 percent of a casino's net revenue in "exclusivity fees," which give tribes the exclusive rights to operate casinos in the state. Those fees generated nearly $139 million in payments to the state last year on roughly $2.3 billion in revenue from games covered under the compacts.

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