OK Supreme Court Rules Against Governor’s Unilateral Gaming Contracts

Tuesday, July 21st 2020, 6:16 pm
By: Jonathan Cooper

The Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled 2 new gaming compacts signed by Governor Kevin Stitt are invalid.

In a 7-1 vote Tuesday, the state Supreme Court sided with 2 top legislative leaders who had sued the Governor, saying he exceeded his authority by binding the state to gaming compacts that currently violate the state law.

In April, the Governor signed 2 new gaming compacts with the Otoe-Missouria Tribe and Comanche Nation that included expanded gaming such as house banked table games and sports betting.

Senate President Pro Tem Greg Treat, House Speaker Charles McCall and Attorney General Mike Hunter argued that since sports betting and house banked table games are not currently legal under state law, neither are these new compacts.

Treat and McCall sued, citing the importance of separation of powers, and on Tuesday the Supreme Court sided with them. Tuesday’s ruling only effects these two compacts.

A separate federal case is still pending about whether the tribes have been operating class 3 gaming illegally, because the Governor said the compacts expired on December 31 of 2019. The tribes, however, said they haven't.

News on 6’s Jonathan Cooper recently sat down with the Governor and asked what would happen if he lost this separate case.

"If the judge rules that these contracts go on forever, then I guess Oklahoma got a raw deal in 2004 and we'll just have to make that decision when it happens. It defies logic thinking that a contract goes on forever," said Governor Stitt.

There's another twist in this. Late Tuesday, both the Otoe-Missouria tribe and Comanche Nation released statements saying their new compacts are legal under federal law.

Below are statements from both tribes, Governor Stitt, Charles McCall, Greg Treat, Mike Hunter and the Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association.

Comanche Chairman William Nelson, Sr. said,

“Our compact is legal under federal law and is a matter of our tribal sovereignty. We intend to continue operating under the terms of the compact outside of offering games not currently authorized by state law. Our compact is legal, and we are prepared to legally invoke the compact’s severability clause if necessary."

Governor Kevin Stitt said,

"The Supreme Court decision highlights an apparent conflict between the federal law and our state laws. Oklahoma must address the entire gaming framework to ensure that all federally recognized Tribes can legally game and enjoy all the privileges conferred by IGRA. Together with the McGirt decision, it’s clear that the State has significant work to do - in partnership with the Tribes - to resolve these matters. I look forward to doing the hard work for the benefit of all Oklahomans, and to ensure a sustainable future for our State."

John R. Shotton, Otoe-Missouria Tribe Chairman, said,

 “The Oklahoma Supreme Court doesn’t have jurisdiction to invalidate our compact when state and federal law dictates that our compact is legal. We have said all along we do not plan to offer house-banked card and table games and event wagering until they are authorized by state law. Indeed, this condition was part of the compact, and it was unfortunately overlooked by the Court. We will continue to operate under the remaining terms of our compact pursuant to the severability clause of the compact, and we will refrain from operating any game that is not authorized under state law."

Matthew L. Morgan, OIGA said,

“We appreciate the speed with which the Oklahoma Supreme Court acted on the Pro Tem and Speaker’s petition in this important matter. Today’s decision confirms what the Tribes have been saying since Governor Stitt first launched his go-it-alone drive to rewrite our compacts. We believe firmly that the State-Tribal relationship works best when we each act within the roles we have under the law."

Senate President Pro Tempore Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma City, said,

“This ruling confirms what we have maintained all along: There are parameters defined by statute that must be followed in the negotiation of and entering into tribal gaming compacts. This has always been about preserving the separation of powers among the legislative, judicial and executive branches of government. When one branch of government acts outside of its authority, the other branches must take steps to restore the balance of power. This is a victory for the rule of law and preserves the foundational principle of checks and balances upon which our government is based."

House Speaker Charles McCall, R-Atoka, said,

“We appreciate the court’s quick decision and look forward to all parties proceeding in a mutually beneficial manner for Oklahoma and all sovereign tribal nations. From the start, this was about separation of powers, and the Supreme Court affirmed as much with a decisive ruling. Oklahoma and its tribal nations can move forward from this together as partners, as we have done for decades with great success."

Attorney General Mike Hunter said,

“The Supreme Court affirmed what my office has opined, and the pro tem of the Senate and the speaker of the House of Representatives have argued all along, the governor lacks the authority to enter into and bind the state to compacts with Indian tribes that authorize gaming activity prohibited by state law. We applaud today’s ruling and appreciate the court for carefully looking at this and coming to an apt conclusion. We hope this settles and advances the resolution of gaming compact negotiations."