OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — The Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association suspended the membership of two Native American tribes that reached a deal with Gov. Kevin Stitt last month to increase the state's share of revenue from new casinos as other tribes remained locked in a legal dispute with the governor.
In a statement released on Thursday, the association said its governing board voted to suspend the memberships of the Red Rock, Oklahoma-based Otoe-Missouria Tribe and the Lawton-based Comanche Nation for the rest of the calendar year. They can seek reinstatement once the suspension expires.
Association Chairman Matthew Morgan noted he felt it was crucial for tribes to speak with a unified voice.
"This was a difficult decision to make, but it was the correct one," he said. "The Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association works best when its membership can speak frankly and with the trust that all members are working together to support our industry as a whole."
The move came less than a month after Stitt signed new 15-year gaming compacts with both tribes that would authorize them to build casinos within the jurisdictions of other tribes. The compacts still must be ratified by the U.S. Department of the Interior.
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 wants the state to get a bigger cut from the tribal casinos, and his position is that the compacts expired that day. The tribes contend that all the requirements were met for the compacts to renew for another 15 years.
In a statement, Comanche Nation Chairman William Nelson Sr. expressed disappointment with the association's decision.
"It's unfortunate the OIGA doesn't respect individual tribal sovereignty to negotiate new compacts," he said, adding that "The Comanche Business Committee looks forward to the immediate approval by the Office of Indian Gaming."
Otoe Missouria Chairman John R. Shotton echoed those sentiments in his statement.
"Regardless of the opinion of the OIGA, there are not hierarchies of sovereign nations in Indian Country," he said. "...I certainly hope as negotiations continue, other tribes won't be singled out for exercising their tribal sovereignty."
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.