Oklahoma Attorney General Says Governor Lacks Authority To Enter Into Gaming Compacts

May 6, 2020

On Tuesday, Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter issued an opinion saying Governor Kevin Stitt cannot enter into compacts with tribes that authorize gaming activity prohibited by state law.

“Because the Governor lacks authority to “enter into” the agreements he has sent to you, those agreements fail to meet the requirements of Indian Gaming Regulatory Act to constitute a valid gaming compact under federal law,” Hunter wrote in a letter to the Governor. 

“How a state enters into a gaming compact with a tribe, including whether the Governor may do so unilaterally in contravention of state statute, is a core concern of the state’s constitutional structure and is therefore a matter of state law,” Hunter continued.

Last month, Stitt announced he was entering into compacts with the Otoe Missouria Tribe and Comanche Nation that included sports betting and house banked table games, such as dice or roulette wheels. The attorney general said Stitt lacks authority to enter into an agreement with tribes that authorizes these gaming activities because they are prohibited by state law.

A letter written by the attorney general was also sent to the United States Secretary of the Interior, David Bernhardt, calling on him to reject the Governor’s request to approve the compacts because they aren't authorized by the Indian Gaming and Regulatory Act.

Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association Chairman Matt Morgan responded swiftly to the attorney general’s opinion on the compacts. 

“We appreciate Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter’s clear analysis of the law and his strong letter to the United States Secretary of the Interior,” Morgan stated in a press release.

After the Governor announced the new gaming compacts last month, Morgan also called on the Secretary of the Interior to reject the compacts saying that Stitt had no authority to enter into the them.

“As the Attorney General states and we have argued for some time, Governor Stitt does not have the authority to bind Oklahoma to his empty promises,” Morgan said Tuesday. “Oklahoma and the Tribes deserve better than the carelessness Governor Stitt has brought to the table, and the Attorney General’s analysis encourages us that we will be able to reestablish the sort of Tribal-State engagement that conforms to the law and serves all of us well. Oklahomans deserve no less from state government, and the Tribes remain committed to that result.”

Comanche Nation Chairman William Nelson, Sr. and Otoe-Missouria Tribe Chairman John Shotten also issued an opinion on the legality of these gaming compacts. They believe the compacts they signed with the governor are valid and should be approved. 

"Our compacts are legal and were negotiated in good faith. The political fight between the governor and the attorney general over sports betting is not our concern and does not impact the legality of the compacts,” the two leaders said in a statement. “We look forward to approval of the compacts, which are good for our tribal members, our local communities and the state as a whole."

In April, both tribes were released from the lawsuit they had filed against Stitt in conjunction with other tribes arguing the 2004 compacts were still valid.

Stitt has yet to respond to the attorney general’s opinion or letter.