Federal Judge Sides With Oklahoma Tribes In Gaming Compact Dispute

Tuesday, July 28th 2020, 6:17 pm
By: Jonathan Cooper

TULSA, Okla. -

Oklahoma tribes are celebrating a big win after a federal judge ruled their 15-year gaming compacts signed in 2004 automatically renewed at the beginning of the year.

"I was relieved that the judge read the plain terms of the compact and agreed with what tribal leaders had been saying all along," said Matthew Morgan, the Chairman of the Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association.

The interpretation of the compacts has been a hot topic for more than a year after Governor Kevin Stitt first announced his plan to re-negotiate the compacts to get the state, and smaller tribes a better deal.

He also asserted that the compacts expired at the end of last year.

The tribes though disagreed and several of them, including the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, filed a federal lawsuit asking a judge to decide.

"We all agreed in the beginning that this compact automatically renewed," said David Hill, the Principal Chief of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation.

After months of back and forth, Tuesday morning, the judge announced his decision saying the state met certain parameters of the compacts, like renewing horse racing licenses, to automatically make them renew.

Matthew Morgan, chairman of the Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association, said he hopes today's decision will mean the end of litigation and the start of a new relationship with the Governor.

"I definitely think it's a relationship that needs to be repaired," said Morgan.

Governor Kevin Stitt released a statement saying he is deeply disappointed in the court’s decision.

“I am deeply disappointed by the federal court’s ruling. It confirms my fears, and the fears of many fellow Oklahomans, that the State entered into a poorly negotiated deal and now we must bear the cost of this mistake. The federal court determined that the 2004 Gaming Compact autorenewed for 15 years because of an action taken by an agency’s unelected board to reissue licenses for gaming at horse racing tracks. This decision, coupled with the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling on McGirt, means Oklahomans have important questions to face regarding our future. Among other things, we will need to explore the challenges of who will pay taxes and who won’t, of how we will guarantee a competitive marketplace, and of how the State will fund core public services into the next generation. In short, we face a question of constitutional proportions about what it means to be the state of Oklahoma and how we regulate and oversee all business in our state. 
“When I came into office, I inherited letters from tribes saying the compacts were set to expire on January 1, 2020. In my first six months, I traveled across the state listening to tribal leaders and to leaders from many sectors of Oklahoma’s economy about these compacts. What I heard and what I learned is that only a few tribes were receiving most of the benefit from gaming; the one-size-fits-all approach to the Model Gaming Compact was clearly broken. As your Governor, I was driven by a conviction that we could look to the future and generate new, sustainable opportunities for the next generation of Oklahomans.
“As the State began its efforts to renegotiate, the 2004 Gaming Compact continued to prove its shortcomings were much deeper. Judge DeGuisti’s decision to send the State and the tribes to court-ordered mediation was right and it was fruitful. It brought differing tribal voices to the table that historically were cut out from these conversations. It resulted in new gaming compacts, affirmed by the U.S. Department of Interior, and it showed Oklahoma what could be possible with a fresh slate. 
“The new gaming compacts demonstrate the State could offer unique, thoughtful opportunities for each tribe. In turn, the State could achieve fair-market rates, as high as 13%, for Class III gaming operations, and we could establish clear auditing and transparency measures to protect the integrity of the compact and ensure the trust of all Oklahoma citizens. Our new gaming compacts show when the State and Tribes are at the table together, we can achieve better public policy and healthier relationships. We could create gaming compacts that level the playing field for all Oklahoma job creators and spur hundreds of millions of dollars more in revenue for our public schools.
“As we move forward, I will continue to hold fast to my commitment as your Governor to work with all Oklahomans on Top Ten solutions that deliver a stronger, more prosperous future for our state.” – Governor Kevin Stitt