OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — A federal judge has ordered Gov. Kevin Stitt and tribes to mediate their months-long dispute over the gambling compacts that give tribes the exclusive right to operate casinos in the Oklahoma.
U.S. District Court Chief Judge Timothy D. DeGiusti ordered the tribes and the Republican governor to submit a list of three proposed mediators. The court will quickly appoint one mediator to facilitate discussions.
Monday's decision is in response to a December lawsuit filed by three of the state's most powerful Native American tribes— the Chickasaw, Cherokee and Choctaw nations— seeking clarity over the gambling dispute with the governor. The two parties have been locked in a disagreement for months over whether gambling exclusively at tribal casinos automatically renewed on Jan. 1 for another 15-year term.
The tribes say all the conditions have been met for the gambling compacts to renew, but Stitt insists the compacts expired on Jan. 1 and that casino gambling after that date is illegal. The governor wants to renegotiate for a larger portion of the tribes' gambling revenue.
The four-page order offered a "firm deadline" for mediation to be completed by March 31, though more time may be permitted if necessary.
Both parties welcomed the court's decision.
The Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association is pleased that the judge moved quickly to set a timeline for the first steps to resolving the dispute and looks forward to a timely decision, said the gaming association's chairman's Matthew Morgan.
"The mediation order entered by Judge DeGiusti is welcomed by the governor and the state," said Baylee Lakey, a Stitt spokeswoman.
A status report of the mediation progress must be submitted 21 days after a mediator has been appointed by the court. The judge also prohibited parties from sharing details regarding the mediation process without the court's permission.