OKLAHOMA CITY — Citing economic uncertainty for casino vendors and employees, Gov. Kevin Stitt is asking tribal leaders to sign a temporary extension of Oklahoma’s current gaming compacts.
Gov. Stitt announced the extension offer at a Dec. 17 press conference at the state Capitol building. The first term governor has maintained that the gaming compacts between the state and more than 30 tribes expires on Jan. 1, 2020, and has not ruled out the possibility of taking legal action against both gambling tribes and their casinos’ vendors to make his point.
Along with two former governors, leaders from Oklahoma’s gaming tribes have publicly said otherwise. The compacts include language that says they automatically renew if certain provisions are met, including the renewal of gaming and racing licenses by the Oklahoma Horse Racing Commission.
“The state cannot reach an agreement that addresses the needs of every tribe – and the state – in the next 18 days,” Stitt said. “If we do not take expedited action, however, all Class III gaming activity will be illegal as of January 1, 2020, creating legal uncertainty for Oklahoma tribes, those who conduct business with casinos, and casino patrons. We cannot put Oklahomans in that position.”
In compliance with the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, Class III compacted games in Oklahoma include slot machines, craps, roulette and house-banked table games, such as blackjack. Class II gaming, which includes electronic bingo and pull-tab games, is not subject to the compact. The current compacts do not include provisions to allow for sports betting or online gambling.
Additionally, the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act requires the Department of Interior to approve any amendments to state-tribal gaming compacts, including the 2018 addition of ball and dice games after the teacher walkout or Stitt’s proposed extension.
Under the current compact, the exclusivity fees for Oklahoma’s 131 tribally operated casinos tops out at 10 percent, prompting a $139 million payout to state coffers in 2018 alone. That figure represents an increase of 3.48 percent from the previous fiscal year.
After the governor’s press conference, Matthew Morgan, a citizen of the Chickasaw Nation and chairman of the Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association, rebuffed Stitt’s claims that Class III gaming will be illegal on New Year’s Day and reiterated that it will be business as usual at tribal casinos across Oklahoma.
“I’m disappointed and troubled by the language Gov. Stitt keeps using,” Morgan said. “I wish he wouldn’t be the person who adds uncertainty to this discussion. We’re entering into the holiday season and don’t see anyone else offering uncertainty besides him.”
Morgan also declined to comment on the proposal because neither he nor the organization’s members had seen it in writing yet.
“He is utilizing the bully pulpit to craft his message,” he said. “He has not reached out to tribal leadership to say any of this.
“Tribal leaders have been clear from the beginning: if he’ll acknowledge the auto-renewal provisions, then we will sit down and negotiate. We are still yet to see anything.”