Comanche, Otoe-Missouria sign compacts with Oklahoma governor

The Associated Press

Governor still remains locked in a legal dispute over gambling with 10 other tribes

Sean Murphy

The Associated Press

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt announced Tuesday he reached a deal with two Native American tribes to increase the state's share of revenue from new casinos, but the governor still remains locked in a legal dispute over gambling with 10 other tribes.

Stitt signed new 15-year gaming compacts with the Red Rock, Oklahoma-based Otoe-Missouria Tribe and the Lawton-based Comanche Nation. The compacts still must be ratified by the U.S. Department of the Interior.

"This modernized gaming compact expands opportunities for our tribal partners, enhances revenue for the state from Class III and covered games, and will strengthen state-tribal relations for generations to come," Stitt said during a signing ceremony at the state Capitol with leaders from both tribes.

Casino gambling has become a huge moneymaker for tribes based in Oklahoma after they got the exclusive right to operate casinos under a voter-approved compact with the state 15 years ago. Dozens of casinos, including several glittering Las Vegas-scale complexes, generate more than $2 billion a year, with $150 million going to the state's coffers last year, most of it earmarked for public schools.

All the casinos in the state have been shut down since March 23 amid the spread of the coronavirus, depriving both tribal nations and the state of much-needed revenue.

The new compacts announced on Tuesday would authorize both tribes to offer sports gambling. The state's share on sports gambling would be 1.1 percent of the amount wagered. Under the new compacts, the exclusivity fees paid by the tribes to the state would be between 4.5 percent to 6 percent of net revenue at existing casinos, which is similar to the fees paid under the current compacts. But that amount would increase to as high as 13 percent at new casinos the tribes build.

The new compacts specifically allow the Otoe-Missouria Tribe to build new casinos in Logan, Noble and Payne counties, while the Comanche Nation could open new facilities in Cleveland, Grady and Love counties.

Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association Chairman Matt Morgan said in a statement that while he respects the rights of each tribe to enter into its own agreement with the state, he believes Stitt overstepped his legal authority.

"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," Morgan said. "That's simply not the law."

The state's Republican Attorney General, Mike Hunter, also indicated Tuesday he believes Stitt does not have the legal authority to authorize sports gambling at casinos. 

"The governor has the authority to negotiate compacts with the tribes on behalf of the state," Hunter said. "However, only gaming activities authorized by the (Oklahoma Tribal Gaming) Act may be the subject of a tribal gaming compact. Sports betting is not a prescribed 'covered game' under the act." 

Meanwhile, mediation between the state and 10 other Oklahoma-based tribal nations is continuing after three of the state's most powerful tribes — the Cherokee, Chickasaw and Choctaw nations — sued the governor late last year. Nine other tribes, including the Otoe-Missouria and Comanches, later joined that lawsuit. A federal judge has extended mediation in that case until May 31.

The key point of contention is whether the compacts signed 15 years ago automatically renewed on Jan. 1. Stitt's position is that the compacts expired on Jan. 1, while the tribes contend all the requirements were met for the compacts to renew for another 15 years.