OKLAHOMA CITY — Despite comments from Gov. Kevin Stitt to the contrary, tribal gaming officials have no plans to turn off the casino lights or put away the blackjack tables on Jan. 1.
“We are confident in our reading of the compact,” Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association Chairman and Chickasaw Nation citizen Matthew Morgan said. “We will continue to operate on Jan. 1.”
Earlier that afternoon at a press conference inside the Oklahoma Capitol building, Gov. Stitt told reporters that tribal leaders have refused to talk to his administration about the future of gaming compacts, which he maintains expire at the end of 2019.
As worded, Oklahoma’s tribal gaming compacts includes language that says the compacts automatically renew for another 15 years if certain prerequisites are met, including the authorization of pari-mutuel betting at the state’s horse racing facilities.
The compact also includes a provision that either side can request that the terms be renegotiated if at least six months’ notice is given, prompting Stitt’s stance. Stitt signaled his desire to renegotiate in early July via an editorial published in the Tulsa World and letters mailed to tribal letters at about the same time.
“The compacts expire on Jan. 1, 2020,” Stitt said. “This is going to cause extreme uncertainty if we don’t have a new compact on Jan. 1, 2020.”
Tribal officials notified Gov. Stitt and Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter earlier this month that they were not interested in pursuing arbitration after an inter-governmental meeting at the Citizen Potawatomi Nation’s Grand Casino near Shawnee.
“There are things that the state or the federal government could do if they are operating Class III gaming after Jan. 1 without a compact,” Gov. Stitt said. “Lots of things. That’s not my wish though.”
Stitt declined to offer any specific actions that the state would pursue. He also declined to comment on the negotiation’s impact on loans taken out to finance on-going expansion efforts by both the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes and the Osage Nation, as the possibility of tribes simply reverting to Class II gaming, which is not subject to compacting.
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 includes electronic bingo and pull-tab games. 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.
During Thursday’s press conference, Gov. Stitt declined to give a specific percentage rate sought by state officials, but repeatedly referenced the exclusivity fees paid by gaming tribes in Connecticut and Florida.
Connecticut has two tribally-operated casinos, which pay 25 percent of their slot machine revenue to the state.
Florida also has two gaming tribes. The larger one, the Seminole Tribe, operates seven casinos and stopped paying fees to the state in May after compact negotiations broke down. When negotiations broke down, the state of Florida was receiving about $25 million per month from Seminole gaming revenue.
By comparison, the exclusivity fees for Oklahoma’s 131 tribally operated casinos max out at 10 percent, prompting a $139 million payout to state coffers in 2018 alone, an increase of 3.48 percent from the previous fiscal year.
“There is plenty of opportunity to move forward, but Gov. Stitt needs to come to the table after reading the entire document,” Morgan said.
“We can’t pay more if he doesn’t offer more. That’s a tenant of federal law.”