Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt announced the signing of two new gaming compacts Tuesday, April 21, 2020. (NonDoc)
In a teleconference call with media this afternoon, Gov. Kevin Stitt announced the signing of two new gaming compacts with the Otoe-Missouria Tribe and the Comanche Nation, a development that reflects differences of priority on the casino gambling dispute that had long been rumored but had mostly stayed out of the public eye.
“At a time when so much is uncertain with this COVID-19 situation, we have negotiated a new compact to provide certainty,” said Otoe-Missouria Chairman John Shotton. The Otoe-Missouria Tribe has about 1,400 members and is headquartered in the town of Red Rock in Noble County and operates five casinos in northern Oklahoma under the 7-Clans Casino branding.
In late March, Stitt’s legal team sent new gaming compact offers to more than half a dozen tribes. Those offers were not sent to the largest gaming tribes in the state — the Chickasaw Nation, Choctaw Nation and Cherokee Nation — that sued Stitt in federal court seeking a ruling that the existing Oklahoma Model Tribal Gaming Compact automatically renewed on Jan. 1. The court case is in mediation, with a deadline extended to May 31 owing to COVID-19.
The Otoe-Missouria had joined the Chickasaw, Choctaw and Cherokee nations in the lawsuit, and Shotton said in his remarks today that his tribe still believes the previous compact automatically renewed.
“[This new compact] provides for a lower rate than we are currently paying,” Shotton said, saying it includes the opportunity for sportsbook. “There are opportunities for expanding gaming in the future. (…) It was our choice to sit down with the governor and his team.”
Stitt thanked and congratulated Shotton for reaching a new agreement.
“This was not a take it or leave it compact from the state or the tribes,” Stitt said. “This was a win-win negotiated compact.”
The Comanche Nation also operates five casinos in Oklahoma and has been fighting a series of disputes with the Chickasaw Nation — the largest gaming tribe in the state — regarding land rights and other industry issues. According to Oklahoma’s 2018 gaming compliance report, the Comanche Nation paid more than $4.1 million in exclusivity fees in 2018. The report notes the Otoe-Missouria paid just under $2 million. By comparison, the Chickasaw Nation paid more than $47.8 million, the Choctaw Nation paid more than $26.2 million and the Cherokee Nation paid more than $16.5 million.
“May God share his grace of peace and discernment over our ancient ways of truth and goodness,” Comanche Nation Chairman William Nelson said on the teleconference. He noted that the tribe’s entire council was in attendance for the compact signing and was involved in negotiations.
Tribal council member June Sovo said a prayer in Comanche that he repeated in English.
“As we walk together, these birds that share the same sky, we as brothers — my Otoe brothers, my Cherokee brothers — we want everything good for them as we walk this Earth together,” Sovo said.
The Comanche Nation compact (embedded below) specifies on page 15 the tribe’s ability to open new three new casinos in three counties that currently feature Chickasaw gaming operations.
“In addition to its existing facilities, the tribe may establish and operate the Cleveland County facility, the Grady County facility and the Love County facility, subject to the land being taken into trust,” the compact states, noting federal approval is required.
The Otoe-Missouria compact similarly authorizes new facilities in Noble County, Logan County and Payne County.
The Otoe-Missouria operates the 7 Clans First Council Casino in Newkirk, Oklahoma. (Provided)
Statewide campaign has emphasized aligned interests
Over the past nine months, representatives of the Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association and the media campaign United for Oklahoma have emphasized the common and aligned interests of tribal nations’ gaming operations.
“Today, we will be sending these two new compacts to the Department of the Interior to be ratified,” Stitt said.
The Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association released a statement shortly after the publication of this story.
“We respect the sovereignty of each Tribe to take what actions it believes it must on behalf of its citizens,” said OIGA chairman Matthew Morgan. “All the same, Gov. Stitt does not have the authority to do what he claims to have done today. Without the engagement of the Oklahoma Legislature, he has entered agreements based on a claim of unilateral state authority to legalize sportsbook, to revamp the Oklahoma Lottery, and to authorize new gaming facilities in Norman and Stillwater, among other places. That’s simply not the law.”
Morgan, who also serves as director of gaming affairs for the Chickasaw Nation, said he thinks the two new gaming compacts signed by the Comanche Nation and the Otoe-Missouria Tribe “have not helped matters for anyone.”
“I expect tribal and state officials are now reviewing the documents he released today and trying to understand what exactly it is Gov. Stitt is trying to do,” Morgan said. “But at the end of the day, I suspect his actions have not helped matters for anyone.”
In a March 30 interview with NonDoc, OIGA Vice Chairman Billy Friend — chief of the Wyandotte Nation, which received a new compact offer from Stitt — said the governor’s proposal had many problems.
“We completely reject it outright. There is nothing in this compact,” Friend said of the offer to his tribe. “There’s more regulatory intrusion in this compact than what we currently have. They are asking for more information, they basically want our player club information.
“It’s just a big power grab from the state in a lot of ways, wanting more information from the casinos and more regulatory authority.”
Copies of the new gaming compacts with the Otoe-Missouria Tribe and the Comanche Nation are embedded below.
(Update: This story was updated at 2 p.m. Tuesday, April 21, to include additional information. It was updated again at 2:13 p.m. to include comment from Morgan.)