Oklahoma's governor just signed three compacts with tribes. He has many more to go

by Molly Young, The Oklahoman

Top Oklahoma lawmakers say new state-tribal compacts negotiated by the governor are welcome signs of progress. 

But many more agreements still need to be worked out by the end of the year, and it remains to be seen whether the Legislature will further intervene.

Gov. Kevin Stitt signed off this month on tobacco tax deals with the Chickasaw and Apache nations. He also reached a separate car tag compact with the Chickasaw Nation.

The deals became an instant highlight in tribal relations under the governor, since he is more often feuding with tribal leaders in court or in public comments. His office has not returned messages to comment on the compacts or disclose how many others being negotiated. However, the governor did issue a statement late Monday confirming he had signed the compacts.

"I continue to welcome other federally recognized tribes in Oklahoma to engage with my office in the compacting process," he said.

Senate President Pro Tem Greg Treat called the new compacts with the Chickasaw Nation a “major win” that will generate millions of dollars in tax revenues every year.

“This is a step in the right direction and something I hope we can build on moving forward while fostering positive relationships with our tribal partners,” Treat said in a statement.

But the Oklahoma City Republican added that he didn’t think the deals would have been possible if the Legislature hadn’t stepped in last year when negotiations between tribal leaders and the governor stalled. At that time, lawmakers voted to renew all state-tribal tobacco tax and car tag compacts on existing terms through 2024. 

While the Chickasaw and Apache nations now have long term deals, the clock is still running on other tobacco tax and car tag agreements. 

A looming court ruling is adding to the uncertainty. Stitt has asked the state’s highest civil court to invalidate all of the compact extensions approved by the Legislature. The state Supreme Court heard arguments in the case in December but hasn’t handed down its decision. 

Treat had said last summer he hoped the governor would make headway on compact negotiations with tribes, pledging to take over the job in the Legislature if not. House Speaker Charles McCall also has expressed support for lawmakers asserting a greater role in compact talks.

 McCall, a Republican from Atoka, said he was pleased to see Stitt come to terms with Bill Anoatubby, the governor of the Chickasaw Nation. 

“I applaud the hard work of all involved in this process,” McCall said in a statement. 

The basic terms of the new tobacco tax deals are much the same as before. Under the agreements, the state and tribes agree to split tax revenue from tobacco products sold on tribal land. 

Stitt had pushed back against renewing any of those agreements for months, and in some cases years, over his opposition to tribal reservations in eastern Oklahoma. He has insisted on making it clear the terms do not apply throughout entire reservations, only to much smaller subsets of land. 

The Chickasaw Nation’s new compact covers the types of land Stitt had proposed. But it does not limit the tribe from selling on other parts of its southern Oklahoma reservation.

“We built on areas of agreement without waiving or limiting the rights of either party or requiring either party to yield on matters where there may still be legal dispute,” Anoatubby said in a statement.

The 2020 Supreme Court ruling that led to the recognition of the Chickasaw reservation does not apply to the Apache Tribe in western Oklahoma, so land definitions were not contentious in its compact talks with the governor, said the tribe’s attorney, Klint Cowan. 

The biggest priority for the small tribe based in Anadarko was resuming tobacco sales as a way to generate revenue. Its prior compact had lapsed, Cowan said. The terms of the new compact, signed in early January, do not limit the number of smoke shops the tribe can operate. 

“The tribe doesn’t have a lot of revenue generators now,” Cowan said.

What other tribal compacts remain?

It’s unclear how many other agreements are being negotiated by the governor. About two dozen are on track to expire Dec. 31.

The Cherokee Nation, the largest tribe in the state, has not yet reached any deals with Stitt’s office, said Chad Harsha, attorney general for the northeast Oklahoma tribe. 

“The Cherokee Nation respects the rights of our fellow tribes to exercise their sovereignty in compact negotiations with state leadership,” Harsha said in a statement. “In turn, we take seriously our responsibility to support solutions that best serve both our citizens and our fellow Oklahomans.”

Gary Batton, the chief of the Choctaw Nation, said his southern Oklahoma tribe hoped to come to terms soon on compact agreements with the state, “although differences remain on important details.”

“The Choctaw Nation continues to believe we can reach agreements to benefit our members, as well as the state,” Batton said in a statement. “When legislative and executive officials negotiate with our sovereign nation as equal partners, all of Oklahoma’s citizens reap the benefits.”

Molly Young covers Indigenous affairs. Reach her at mollyyoung@gannett.com or 405-347-3534.

River Spirit planning largest sports viewing experience in state, possible first sports book

This rendering shows the new Gridiron Sports Bar and Lounge planned for the former buffet area at River Spirit Casino Resort in Tulsa. Courtesy, River Spirit Casino Resort/I-5 Design Build


River Spirit Casino Resort is converting its former buffet into a massive sports viewing area that will have the state's largest indoor video screen, 54 other TVs, 104 stereo speakers, a 157-seat bar area, a VIP room and other features.

The $17.5 million project also paves the way for the facility to establish what could be the first sports book in the state, if or when sports betting ever becomes legal in Oklahoma.

"It's going to be spectacular," said Pat Crofts, CEO of Muscogee Nation Gaming Enterprises.

The buffet area at the casino, 8330 Riverside Parkway, was shuttered in 2020 after onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the space has remained vacant. 

Work on converting the area into the new facility began about a month ago and is expected to be completed in July, just in time for the summer Olympics, Crofts said.

This rendering shows the new Gridiron Sports Bar and Lounge planned for the former buffet area at River Spirit Casino Resort in Tulsa. Courtesy, River Spirit Casino Resort/I-5 Design Build

Key features of the 14,000-square-foot area will include:

Gridiron Sports Bar and Lounge

● A 53-foot by 14-foot high-resolution LED video wall.

● A 27-seat center bar featuring 24 mounted 70-inch televisions and bar-top gaming.

● Three additional LED video screens and 30 additional 70-inch televisions among guest seating.

● New kitchen with full food service menu.

● Seating for 157 guests.

● Two digital bays featuring Top Golf swing suites for simulated golf and other sports; may also be reserved for game watching during large sporting events

The Locker Room/banquet space

● Seating for more than 100 guests at private watch party.

● A 21-foot by 12-foot LED video wall for sports and group events.

VIP lounge

● Exclusivity for River Spirit’s top-tier-level Players Club members.

● Private bar, lounge and restrooms for an elevated hospitality experience.

Crofts said that if or when sports betting becomes legal in the state, a sports book would be built under the 53-foot LED screen.

"We will be ready," he said. "I don't know if we will be the first (sports book in the state), but I'm sure we can be one of the first."

The project includes $1.6 million for audio and video technology alone, Crofts said.

“River Spirit Casino Resort is undoubtedly Tulsa’s premier entertainment destination,” Muscogee Nation Principal Chief David Hill said in a statement.

“The addition of Gridiron sports bar will continue our commitment to bring exceptional entertainment experiences to our visitors, while elevating the guest experience to one that you cannot find anywhere else.”

I-5 Design Build, based in Lacey, Washington — about 60 miles southwest of Seattle — is the lead architectural design firm, with a track record of projects at more than 125 entertainment properties, including many Native American casino-resorts.

In addition to designing the project, I-5 Design Build’s expertise includes its fabrication and manufacturing facility, where the firm pre-constructs custom architecture features, unique lighting fixtures, and tailor-made hospitality structures and guest seating, which is what is being done at River Spirit, officials said.

"I-5 Design Build has successfully completed multiple remodel, refurbishment and expansion projects for the Muscogee Creek Nation Casinos. All have been completed with the highest of quality, on time and on budget with minimal disruption to existing operations," Crofts said.

The existing, much smaller Scoreboard sports bar on the east side of the casino will be repurposed for a new guest amenity in the future, officials said.

"We are thrilled to unveil Gridiron as the largest sports viewing experience in Oklahoma," Crofts said.

"Gridiron represents a significant capital investment and creates a new standard in dynamic spaces where sports enthusiasts can revel in the excitement of their favorite teams while enjoying top-notch amenities and hospitality services,” he said.

While legalized sports betting remains stalled in Oklahoma, nearly 40 states have legalized it since a 2018 U.S. Supreme Court decision striking down a federal ban on sports betting outside of Nevada. 

Since then, more than $300 billion has been legally bet on sports and more than $4.5 billion has gone to state and local governments via sports betting taxes, according to legalsportsreport.com.

Regional states that have legalized sports betting include Kansas, Arkansas, Colorado, Louisiana and New Mexico.

In addition to River Spirit, the Muscogee Nation operates eight other casinos in eastern Oklahoma.

Mickey Ward, executive vice president of strategy and business development for Cherokee Nation Entertainment, provided the following statement to the Tulsa World in a request for this story:

“We are the leader in gaming and hospitality and committed to driving the guest experience in the region," he said.

The Cherokee Nation operates the sprawling Hard Rock Hotel and Casino Tulsa — located in Catoosa in Rogers County — just east of Tulsa, along with nine other casinos in eastern Oklahoma. 

"Sports betting has become a valued amenity for casino goers. Our team has been working diligently to develop our sports betting operating strategy and will be ready to provide a market leading experience once legalized in Oklahoma," Ward said. 

'Killers of the Flower Moon' earns 10 Academy Award nominations

Lily Gladstone, Robert De Niro and Leonardo DiCaprio appear in a scene from “Killers of the Flower Moon.” Gladstone was nominated for an Academy Award for best actress in a leading role, and Robert De Niro was nominated for best actor in a supporting role. Courtesy, Apple Original Films


The shot-in-Oklahoma film “Killers of the Flower Moon” secured 10 nominations, including a nod for best picture, when Academy Award nominees were announced Tuesday morning.

“Killers of the Flower Moon” director Martin Scorsese was nominated for best director, and two of the film’s three primary cast members were nominated. Lily Gladstone was nominated for best actress in a leading role, and Robert De Niro was nominated for best actor in a supporting role. Leonardo DiCaprio was not nominated.

Created by Oklahomans for “Killers of the Flower Moon,” “Wahzhazhe (A Song for My People)” was nominated in the category of best original song.

“Killers of the Flower Moon” also earned nominations in the categories of film editing, cinematography, production design, costume design and music (original score).

“Oppenheimer,” which has won best picture honors at other awards shows, secured 13 Academy Awards nominations, more than any other film. “Oppenheimer” is nominated for best picture alongside “Killers of the Flower Moon,” “American Fiction,” “Anatomy of a Fall,” “Barbie,” “The Holdovers,” “Maestro,” “Past Lives,” “Poor Things” and “The Zone of Interest.”

Gladstone became the first Indigenous actress to win best actress at the Golden Globe Awards, and she is the first Native actress to earn an Academy Awards nomination. Other nominees for best actress are Annette Bening for “Nyad,” Sandra Hüller for “Anatomy of a Fall,” Carey Mulligan for “Maestro” and Emma Stone for “Poor Things.” Margot Robbie of "Barbie" was not nominated.

De Niro’s competition for best supporting actor includes Robert Downey Jr., who has been winning on the awards circuit for his work in “Oppenheimer.” Other nominees in the category are Sterling K. Brown (“American Fiction”), Ryan Gosling (“Barbie”) and Mark Ruffalo (“Poor Things”).

Best actor nominees are Bradley Cooper (“Maestro”), Colman Domingo (“Rustin”), Paul Giamatti (“The Holdovers”), Cillian Murphy (“Oppenheimer”) and Jeffrey Wright (“American Fiction”).

Joining Scorsese as best director nominees are Justine Triet (“Anatomy of a Fall”), Yorgos Lanthimos (“Poor Things”), Christopher Nolan (“Oppenheimer”) and Jonathan Glazer (“The Zone of Interest”). Greta Gerwig (“Barbie”) was not nominated.

Winners will be announced March 10 when Jimmy Kimmel hosts the Academy Awards ceremony.

Celebrate Lunar New Year with Choctaw Casino & Resort – Durant

Enjoy festivities from Durant to the Dallas metroplex 

DURANT, Okla. - Choctaw Casino & Resort – Durant is celebrating the Year of the Dragon with immersive Lunar New Year experiences across Southeast Oklahoma and North Texas.  

With multiple events throughout February, Choctaw Casino & Resort – Durant wants to give everyone a chance to embrace the Year of the Dragon and the power, good fortune and prosperity it symbolizes.  

Feb. 2-3: Dragon’s Lounge 

Inside the Red Bud Room at Choctaw Casino & Resort – Durant, the Dragon’s Lounge will be open from 4 p.m.- 12 a.m. on Feb. 2 and from 4 p.m.-11 p.m. on Feb. 3. The free lounge will feature sculptures from Dan Lam, a renowned Vietnamese American artist who creates contemporary, eye-popping pieces that will be available for purchase. The Dragon’s Lounge will be serving an exclusive cocktail expertly crafted by SuTi Craft Distillery, a Vietnamese distillery based in the DFW metroplex. Guests who sign up for the Choctaw Reward’s Club will receive an exclusive Lunar New Year gift. 

The Dragon’s Lounge coincides with two exciting free shows at the ACM award-winning Grand Theater. On Feb. 2, Lover’s in the Night No. 17 will be performing, with doors opening at 7:30 p.m. and the show starting at 9 p.m. Jed, Sheryn and Jona will perform on Feb. 3, with doors opening at 6:30 p.m. and the performance beginning at 8 p.m. 

Guests can also join in the fun on the gaming floor with Year of the Dragon Table Game Hotseats. Players can win their share of $150,000 from Jan. 28-Feb. 11, with up to $5,000 cash drawings every hour from 3 p.m.-10 p.m. Sundays through Thursday and 6 p.m.-1 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. 

Feb. 9-11, 16-18: Dragon’s Throne  

Inside Grandscape in The Colony, TX, Choctaw Casino & Resort – Durant is hosting an immersive Lunar New Year experience called Dragon’s Throne. Dan Lam created a dragon’s throne that will be on display and available for photo ops throughout the event. Several of Lam’s other sculptures will also be displayed, and guests will have the chance to enter a sweepstakes for a Stay & Play package at Choctaw Casino & Resort – Durant or a Dan Lam original sculpture. Attendees of Dragon’s Throne will be given a good fortune envelope containing a $15 voucher for The District Food Hall at Choctaw Casino & Resort – Durant, which features Velvet Taco, The Pit, Italia Kitchen and South Hot Chicken. The Dragon’s Throne event will be held from 1 p.m.-7 p.m. Feb. 9, 11, 16, 17 and 18 and from 1 p.m.-10 p.m. on Feb. 10.  

Feb. 10: Lunar New Year Festival 

Choctaw Casino & Resort - Durant is the proud presenting sponsor of the Lunar New Year Festival at Grandscape in The Colony, TX. Celebrate the Year of the Dragon with us by experiencing vibrant traditional and contemporary performances, a variety of food vendors, a night market around the center, and activities for the entire family. Don't forget to stop by the Dragon's Throne immersive experience hosted by artist, Dan Lam, located in The Homestead.


About Choctaw Casino & Resort in Durant, Okla. 

Located an hour north of the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex, Choctaw Casino & Resort – Durant is a AAA Four Diamond casino resort, entertainment and convention destination in southeastern Oklahoma. The casino has more than 7,400 slot machines, table games, a poker room, and a large non-smoking casino.  The resort offers more than 100,000 square feet of meeting and convention space and seats more than 3,000 at the Academy of Country Music (ACM) award-winning Grand Theater. The resort also includes more than 1,600 luxurious rooms and suites, 20 restaurants, 21 bars and lounges, six retail stores, two fitness centers, a spa, and two outdoor pools and a water park. The family-friendly District offers guests 20 bowling lanes, a 6-screen premier movie theater, 70 arcade games and dining options. Additionally, guests can enjoy the 77-camper Choctaw RV Park located across from the casino. For more information, visit choctawcasinos.com.  


About Grandscape 

Grandscape is a brand-new, one-of-a-kind outdoor shopping, dining and entertainment destination – an oasis in the middle of North Texas. It includes NFM and Scheels, as well as chef-driven, world-class restaurants, lush landscaping, family-friendly experiences, entertainment and events. As the 2021 recipient of the RLI International Award for Most Innovative Entertainment & Retail Project, Grandscape continues to lead the way for experience destinations around the globe.  For more information visit www.grandscape.com or follow us on our social channels @grandscapetx.