Compact talks could continue without Cherokees

Thursday, January 15th 2004, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ State leaders may move ahead with a new gaming compact without one of Oklahoma's largest tribes if a dispute between the Cherokee Nation and Choctaw Nation can't be resolved by Friday.

State Finance Director Scott Meacham said negotiations on the compact have gone on long enough and the state needs to move forward to adopt the agreement that would allow revenue sharing between the state and tribes offering Las Vegas-style gaming.

``We have to make that decision at that point, but that's what we're looking at,'' Meacham said. ``On Friday we'll make that call: do we just go ahead without them or do we stop, do we do something different?''

Meacham, who negotiates compacts for Gov. Brad Henry, said he understands there have been discussions between the two large tribes to try to resolve the dispute.

``I know some proposals and counterproposals have been made,'' he said.

The two tribes are at odds over the purchase of a bankrupt horse racing track in Sallisaw.

Blue Ribbon Downs is within the historical boundaries of land once occupied by the Cherokees.

Backstretch LLC, a private firm owned by the Choctaw Nation, bought the track a day before it was to go on the auction block in a sheriff's sale.

At least one state attorney has said, however, that the track is not within what is legally considered Indian country today.

After the Choctaws purchased Blue Ribbon Downs, Cherokee officials backed off negotiations on the gaming compact.

``We've told them that issue needs to be resolved by Friday,'' Meacham said.

Officials with both tribes were not available for comment.

Meacham has also set Friday as the deadline for ironing out final provisions in draft legislation that would establish a model gaming compact and allow state horse racing tracks to offer certain types of electronic games.

``We are very, very close to having final language that the horsemen and the tribes can all agree to,'' he said.

If everything comes together by Friday, Meacham said, officials hope to have the measure ready to present to lawmakers with the Legislative session begins Feb. 2.

Negotiations on the bill failed last session.

Meacham said the new legislation would require participating tribes to be in compliance tobacco laws.

As sovereign nations, tribes cannot be forced to pay the Oklahoma cigarette tax on sales to tribal members, but many tribes operate smoke shops that also do business with non-tribal members.