Two tribes signed new agreements this week that would begin sports betting and table games. That led to criticism from the state legislature and the state attorney general. Both argue the Governor doesn’t have the authority from the legislature to authorize these new forms of gaming.
Governor Kevin Stitt and Oklahoma's Attorney General Mike Hunter tussled over compact signed with the Comanche Nation and the Otoe-Missouria Tribe on Tuesday to begin sports betting and banked table gaming, such as blackjack, craps and roulette.
Hunter said in a written statement that the agreements are not authorized by the state's Tribal Gaming Act, but Philip Whaley, a private attorney representing the state said there is "an adequate, sufficient basis in law for the governor to have that authority."
Legislative leaders also contend Stitt overstepped his bounds. Senate President Pro Tem Greg Treat said it appears that the governor acted in violation of the law, while House Speaker Charles McCall said that Oklahomans are not interested in anyone "running over essential separations of powers and checks and balances."
Reaction from the Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association came quickly.
“We respect the sovereignty of each Tribe to take what actions it believes it must on behalf of its citizens,” said Matt Morgan, Chairman of the Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association. But Morgan went on to say that the Governor did not have the authority to enter into unilateral agreements to legalize sports betting or authorize new gaming facilities.
Robert Rosette is an attorney that represents both tribes. He says his clients respect the attorney general's position.
“The compacts that were negotiated with the governor were very clearly that sports betting is permitted only, and I'll quote straight from the compact to the extent that they're authorized by law,” explained Rosette.
From the tribe's perspective, if the Governor has the authority to enter into sports betting, they will begin as soon as they are able. In a statement, both tribes say they anticipate more guidance from the legislature.
“Although state law currently does not authorize event wagering, the compacts nonetheless included such language in anticipation that the state legislature will eventually see event wagering as an important source of revenue,” read a statement the two tribes released Wednesday after the Attorney General Hunter said the new compacts weren’t authorized by state law.
The compact would allow the Otoe-Missouria to build three new casinos in Noble, Payne and Logan counties and the Comanche Nation to build new casinos in Cleveland, Grady and Love counties. These new facilities would pay a higher exclusivity rate to the state ranging from 8 to 12 percent. The rate for existing facilities would go down from five percent to 4.5 percent.
Rosette says the signing of this compact is still a win for the tribes, no matter what happens.
“If the AG’s position is right and the Governor doesn't have that authority and has to go through the legislature, then our position is still fine,” said Rosette.
These new compacts still need approval by the Department of Interior. In late March, Stitt sent new compact offers to more than a dozen tribes.
Several tribes remain in a lawsuit against Stitt. The Governor maintains the state’s gaming compact with the tribes expired on December 31, 2019. Many tribes say the compact automatically renewed because no new agreement was reached before that deadline.
A federal judge ordered the Governor and the tribes in the lawsuit into mediation, which was supposed to be completed by March 31. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, that deadline was extended to May 31.