Animosity between Oklahoma tribes and Republican Governor Kevin Stitt over issues related to the economic stability of tribes continues to delay any movement to come to an agreement to legalize sports betting in the state.
Currently, senior lawmakers and the state attorney general’s office are asking the Oklahoma Supreme Court to dismiss Stitt’s lawsuit challenging a pair of new laws to extend tribal-state compacts over tobacco taxes and vehicle registration.
The laws passed by the state legislature intend to renew both compacts until December 2024.
In a ten-page court filing, Garry Gaskins, Oklahoma’s solicitor general, contends that the state constitution gives the legislature authority to negotiate compacts and opposes Stitt’s argument the Oklahoma Constitution grants the governor ultimate power.
Stitt has made it clear that he opposes any extensions without changing the terms to make sure they do not apply throughout tribal reservations, but only to small parcels of land directly owned by tribes.
Previously, Stitt has opposed the automatic renewal of Oklahoma's state-tribal gaming compact and has negotiated his own compacts with tribes.
On July 31, Stitt filed a lawsuit to block the renewals of the non-gaming compacts, shortly after the legislature passed both bills. House Speaker Charles McCall and Senate President Pro tem Greg Treat, both Republicans, have asked the state's Supreme Court to dismiss Stitt’s lawsuit.
When asked if Stitt’s challenge to the tobacco tax and vehicle registration compacts would affect any discussion of sports betting, Matthew Morgan, chairman of the Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association (OIGA), said with tribal-state relations, tribes do not get the luxury to work in a vacuum as all governmental responsibilities tend to overlap.
“As with any relationship areas of friction must be acknowledged and you hope to be able to rely on a strong, mutually respectful relationship to work toward solutions,” Morgan said in an email on Friday (September 1).
“This regularly occurred with past administrations as the lack of progress in one area would necessarily derail progress in other areas.”
Unfortunately, Morgan said, “in the five years of the Stitt administration this hasn't been the case not only in tribal state relations but multiple times in the intra-Oklahoma executive-legislative relations.”
Gaskins said in the filing that the attorney general’s office was entering the case in part to “encourage the governor to stop squandering hundreds of thousands of dollars in state resources.”
The state's Supreme Court has twice ruled tribal gaming compacts signed by Stitt and authorizing sports wagering to be invalid.
According to the Oklahoma Tribal Gaming Act, the state legislature would have to make an offer to the tribes for sports betting, and each tribe would have to decide if they want to participate and sign an amendment to their compact.
Morgan did not directly respond when asked if Oklahoma tribes will wait until Stitt is out of office to move forward with the legislature to expand gaming in the state.
“The policy debate and now legal battle over the tobacco and vehicle registration compacts are just the latest examples and I think will impact the discussion on supplementing our compacts to legalize sports betting,” Morgan said.
“However, our OIGA members will continue to prepare our side of the table as we wait for the legislative and executive branches to engage in respectful government to government discussions on ways to expand our gaming industry that does no harm to our gaming compact, utilizes the compact supplement model found in the law and makes economic sense for our market.”
According to figures released by the National Indian Gaming Commission, the Oklahoma City region, which includes tribes in Oklahoma and Texas, produced $3.1bn in gross gaming revenue in fiscal year 2022.
In July, Oklahoma Attorney General Gentner Drummond announced he would be representing the state in a lawsuit dating back to 2020 over four state-tribal gaming compacts that were signed by the governor.
“As you should fully understand, this long running and costly litigation is a direct result of your refusal to follow Oklahoma law,” Drummond wrote in a letter to Stitt, adding that the litigation has already cost the state $600,000.
“The four tribal gaming compacts you signed were invalid from the state because you did not have the approval or authorization from the Oklahoma legislature to enter the gaming compacts.”
A federal lawsuit was filed by the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Citizen Potawatomi and Choctaw nations after Stitt negotiated new gaming compacts with the Comanche Nation, the Otoe-Missouria, the Kialegee Tribal Town and the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians.
The state's Supreme Court ruled the compacts invalid in July 2020, but Stitt submitted them to the U.S. Department of the Interior, which ultimately approved them.
Stitt's administration has until Wednesday (September 6) to file a response to the filing by the state solicitor general's and lawmakers' request to have the case dismissed.