OKLAHOMA CITY — Calling it a better deal, two Oklahoma tribes have signed new gaming compacts with the state.
Along with Gov. Kevin Stitt, leaders with the Otoe-Missouria Tribe and Comanche Nation signed the compacts in a formal ceremony April 21 in the state capitol.
Until just a few hours before the ceremony, both tribes were part of a federal lawsuit against Stitt over whether the state’s model tribal gaming compacts used by more than 30 tribes automatically renewed on Dec. 31.
“This was our choice to sit down with the governor and negotiate,” Otoe-Missouria Chairman John Shotton said.
The terms call for both tribes to pay an exclusivity fee starting at 4.5 percent on revenue generated by Class III games at their existing casinos. If additional casinos are opened, then the exclusivity fee increases to 6 percent. That is on top of the annual oversight fee paid to the state, which would range from $25,000 to $250,000, depending on how much revenue is generated.
Although the tribes will not be required to pay any fees on Class II games, they would have to have at least 45 percent of their electronic games be considered Class III machines.
The new gaming compacts also remove restrictions on house-banked table and card games. If the compacts are approved by the Department of Interior, people who play table games at Otoe-Missouria and Comanche casinos would no longer have to ante up each hand.
Additionally, each tribe will be allowed to have sports betting at two brick and mortar locations and offers a framework for mobile e-sports gambling. That revenue would be subject to an additional 1.1 percent fee and any sports betting vendors brought on board by either tribe, such as DraftKings or Fan Duel, would be subject to approval by the state first.
Books at either tribe’s casinos would not be allowed to accept wagers on games involving the state’s college teams or on collegiate athletic events hosted in Oklahoma, such as the 2021 Big 12 wrestling tournament in Tulsa or the 2022 NCAA men’s gymnastics championships in Norman.
Oklahoma state law currently does not allow sports betting. During the post-signing press conference, Gov. Stitt said since they are included in the list of covered games in the compact, there was no need for the legislature to take any action, an opinion echoed later that day by the state’s attorney in the negotiations, Ryan Whaley.
“The state feels there is adequate, sufficient basis in law for the governor to have that authority,” he said. “It is expressed in state constitution, statutes, decisions from the Oklahoma Supreme Court, prior opinions of Oklahoma Attorney General that the governor as chief executive is the person charged with the authority to negotiate compacts with the tribes. Because there’s Class III gaming already in Oklahoma, as I understand federal law, the state is obligated to negotiate with tribes on Class III. We have and did.”
The new compacts also include the governor’s endorsement for each tribe to open up new facilities in specific counties that are outside of their jurisdictional area if able to get land take into trust. Section 20 of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act includes provisions for tribes to take land into trust outside of their jurisdictional area if certain conditions are met, including approval from state officials.
Among the specific exemptions for Oklahoma tribes in that section is documentation that the land is either within the tribe’s historical boundaries or is contiguous to land already in trust for that tribe.
The Comanche Nation’s compact allows for one new facility each in Grady, Cleveland and Love counties, while the Otoe-Missouria’s compact would allow for one new casino each in Logan, Payne and Noble counties.
Payne County currently has two tribal casinos: one operated by the Pawnee Nation near Yale and one operated by the Iowa Tribe in Perkins. The Iowa Tribe also operates Logan County’s lone casino in Coyle.
Headquartered in Red Rock, the Otoe-Missouria Tribe already has Noble County casinos in Perry and Red Rock.
Robert Rosette is an attorney for both the Otoe-Missouria Tribe and the Comanche Nation. In an emailed statement, he said that his Lawton-based client is specifically looking at adding casinos near Oklahoma City’s Will Rogers International Airport in far northern Cleveland County, Chickasha’s I-44 corridor and along I-35 near the Red River. The compacts’ off-reservation language includes provisions requiring the new facilities be within a mile of a state or federal highway.
“The tribes negotiated for locations that are within their historical nexus,” Rosette said.
“I would hope that no tribe would challenge those sites or counties that were selected by Comanche or Otoe-Missouria tribes.”
In exchange for the governor’s written approval for additional sites, the tribes will pay a higher exclusivity fee of up to 13 percent for revenue generated by the new casinos should their land into trust applications be approved.
“The bottom line for the tribes is they signed these compacts and they will pay less to the state than they did before,” Rosette said. “This is significant for them. The governor negotiated in good faith. The tribes will pay less, expand Class III gaming in the form of table games where antes are no longer required, plus sports books.
“Each of these tribes negotiated for brand new locations…which still have to receive federal approval. That was a huge, meaningful concession by the state, which is why the tribes agreed to pay higher revenue shares for those sites.”
In an emailed statement, Matthew Morgan, a citizen of the Chickasaw Nation and chairman of the Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association, disputed the governor’s claims that he could unilaterally change state law.
“We respect the sovereignty of each tribe to take what actions it believes it must on behalf of its citizens.
“All the same, Governor Stitt does not have the authority to do what he claims to have done today. Without the engagement of the Oklahoma Legislature, he has entered agreements based on a claim of unilateral state authority to legalize sportsbook, to revamp the Oklahoma Lottery, and to authorize new gaming facilities in Norman and Stillwater, among other places. That’s simply not the law.”
Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter had a similar interpretation. Within hours of the ceremony, he issued a statement questioning the legality of the agreements. Hunter did not represent the state during compact negotiations.
“The agreements signed today between the governor, the Otoe-Missouria Tribe and the Comanche Nation are not authorized by the state Tribal Gaming Act, Title 3A, Section 261 et. sec. The governor has the authority to negotiate compacts with the tribes on behalf of the state. However, only gaming activities authorized by the act may be the subject of a tribal gaming compact. Sports betting is not a prescribed ‘covered game’ under the act.”