Native American Governor At Odds With His Own People Over Tribal Gaming

January 31, 2022
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A wry smile crossed the face of the only Native American governor in the United States when he was asked why he is so unpopular with gaming tribes in his state of Oklahoma.

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A wry smile crossed the face of the only Native American governor in the United States when he was asked why he is so unpopular with gaming tribes in his state of Oklahoma.

“I’m not going to be unfair to one race over another race,” said Republican Governor Kevin Stitt during an interview with VIXIO GamblingCompliance on Saturday (January 29) at the winter meeting of the National Governors Association in Washington, D.C.

“We have to have one set of rules regardless of what race you are, and it’s preposterous to think about one race not paying taxes while another race is paying taxes or another race having different criminal punishments versus other races,” Stitt said.

Stitt, 49, said he is “super proud” of his heritage as a Cherokee through his great grandfather on his mother’s side of the family.

The Cherokee Nation is the largest tribe in Oklahoma and the second largest federally-recognized tribe in the United States behind only the Navajo Nation.

Stitt is only the second Native American to ever serve as a governor in the history of the United States and the first since the 1950s.

The Cook Political Report lists Stitt as “solid” for re-election this year in Oklahoma, arguably the most politically conservative state in the nation.

However, the governor is likely to draw aggressive opposition from Oklahoma’s 39 federally-recognized tribes.

Less than a year after he was elected in 2018, Stitt enraged the Cherokee and other gaming tribes in Oklahoma by insisting gaming compacts were expiring and demanding more casino gambling revenue for the state.

There are 143 Indian casinos in Oklahoma, and tribal gaming operations paid a record $167m to the state in the fiscal year ending June 30, 2021.

Many Oklahoma tribes regarded Stitt’s financial demands as an affront to their sovereignty, and several Cherokee genealogists have questioned the governor’s ancestry.

Earlier this month, Republican state Representative Ken Luttrell, another Cherokee whose Oklahoma district includes five tribes and at least eight casinos, introduced a bill to add in-person sports betting to the Oklahoma state-tribal gaming compact.

“As long as it’s fair for all of Oklahoma, we’ll look at anything but it’s got to make sense and be fair for Oklahoma,” Stitt said of Luttrell’s bill.

Stitt said he is not opposed to online betting, which commenced Friday in Louisiana, “but it’s got to be fair for all of Oklahoma.”

“You can sum me up with one word — and that’s fairness,” Stitt said.

The chairman of the National Governors Association this year, Republican Governor Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas, told VIXIO GamblingCompliance his state remains set to follow Louisiana quickly into the online sports-betting market.

“We’ll probably miss the Super Bowl [on February 13] for online sports betting, but [regulations] should be adopted very shortly after that,” said Hutchinson, whose second and last term as governor expires at the end of this year.

Last week, the Arkansas Racing Commission requested that a state legislative committee delay its approval of new regulations to allow online sports betting until its next meeting.

Democratic Governor Scott Polis of Colorado declined to comment on potential legislation from Colorado House Speaker Alec Garnett to address tax deductions, responsible gaming and advertising for sports betting.

Polis said he has not seen such legislation, but the governor added he is pleased with the performance of sports betting since it was legalized in 2019 in Colorado.

“I did support the initiative that allowed sports betting. It funds our water projects. I think it’s going quite well,” Polis said.

“From my understanding we’ve gotten more revenue than we expected, and Colorado is a leader in that space.”
Republican Governor Mike DeWine of Ohio, who signed a sports-betting bill into law in December, said his state will be taking wagers on games by the end of the year.

“I told my team to speed up as much as possible, but I can’t give you a date yet. But we’re moving forward,” DeWine said.

As for the prospect of online casino gaming in Ohio, DeWine said: “We’ve got a new bill and we’re going to see how it works.”

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