OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – As state leaders fight over the legality of two new tribal gaming compacts with individual tribes, it seems that the Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association has voted to remove the tribes from the organization.
Last month, Gov. Stitt announced that the state had reached new deals with the Otoe-Missouria and Comanche tribes. The compacts call for lower exclusivity fees, and allow sports betting and new casinos closer to larger cities.
Immediately, tribal attorneys were split over the legality of the compacts. Since sports betting is not legal in Oklahoma, they say it cannot be used as a bargaining chip without being passed by the Legislature.
“Tribes can do what is legal in the state so if those games aren’t legal in the state, that poses a threshold problem,” said Kirke Kickingbird, tribal law attorney.
Lawmakers at the Oklahoma State Capitol also expressed concerns about the legality of the move.
In late April, Stitt told lawmakers that he received “numerous, exceptional legal opinions throughout this process” regarding the legal status of the compacts.
However, Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter said the governor lacks the authority to enter into and bind the state to compacts with Native American tribes that authorize gaming activities that are prohibited by state law.
In addition to the opinion, Hunter sent a letter to Secretary of the Interior David Berhardt, where Hunter asked him to reject the agreements because they are not authorized by the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.
“Because the Governor lacks authority to ‘enter into’ the agreements he has sent to you, those agreements fail to meet the requirements of IGRA to constitute a valid gaming compact under federal law,” Attorney General Hunter writes. “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.”
Now, the fight has taken another turn.
On Thursday, the Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association announced that the board had voted to remove the Comanche and Otoe-Missouria tribes from the organization.
Officials say a member tribe that is found not to be in the best interest of the association may be suspended for the remainder of the year. Once the suspension is up, the tribe may seek to be reinstated. The reinstatement also goes to a vote of the board.
“This was a difficult decision to make, but it was the correct one. 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,” said OIGA Chairman Matthew L. Morgan.
The Otoe-Missouria Tribe released the following statement regarding the suspension:
“The Otoe-Missouria Tribe is a sovereign nation and we negotiated a legal compact with the Governor of the State of Oklahoma. We plan to follow the federal process for approval of the negotiated compact. Regardless of the opinion of the OIGA, there are not hierarchies of sovereign nations in Indian Country. Each tribe has the right to negotiate the best compact available for their tribal government. We still support the intentions of the other tribes to fight for the very best compact for their individual governments. I certainly hope as negotiations continue, other tribes won’t be singled out for exercising their tribal sovereignty.”
Otoe-Missouria Tribe Chairman John R. Shotton
The Comanche Nation released the following statement:
“It’s unfortunate the Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association (OIGA) doesn’t respect individual tribal sovereignty to negotiate new compacts. The Comanche Nation constitution makes our duty clear – the common well-being of all Comanche Nation members. The Comanche Nation compact is legal. The Comanche Nation compact speaks to the well-being of all 17,500 members. The Comanche Business Committee looks forward to the immediate approval by the Office of Indian Gaming. I believe the hype of United for Oklahoma gets lost when a sovereign nation does indeed practice sovereignty.
Comanche Nation Chairman William Nelson, Sr.