State mails out audit letters to Oklahoma gaming tribes as dispute escalates
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Published: Sat, December 21, 2019 1:04 AM Updated: Sat, December 21, 2019 1:28 AM
The battle between Gov. Kevin Stitt and Oklahoma’s gaming tribes heated up Friday.
The Stitt administration upped the ante in a dispute over tribal gaming compacts by sending a letter to all gaming tribes informing them that the state intends to resume auditing their gaming operations Jan. 2, officials confirmed Friday.
Meanwhile, leaders of 32 tribes sent a joint letter to the governor Friday accusing him of making inappropriate threats to tribal casino vendors.
The exchange of letters occurred as Stitt and the tribes remain locked in a dispute over whether the 15-year gaming compacts automatically renew on Jan. 1.
The tribes say the compacts automatically renew. Stitt insists they do not.
The governor claims tribal gaming operations will be illegal after that date unless tribes agree to an extension or new compact. Stitt has said he wants tribes to pay a much higher exclusivity rate on the Las Vegas-style Class III slot machines that they operate than the 4%-6% graduated rate they have been paying under current compacts.
“The state is resuming audits of all casino operations in Oklahoma, a right provided in the gaming compacts,” a spokeswoman for the governor said Friday. “As stated in the letters to tribes, the scope of work will be for business activity between Jan. 1, 2018, and Dec. 31, 2018. This reflects a period of time when the State had stopped conducting audits on casinos.”
“The objective of the investigation is to determine if the State has received all fees owed from the conduct of covered games pursuant to terms of the Model Tribal Gaming Compact,” Brandy Manek, director of budget, policy and gaming compliance for the state, said in one of the letters that went out to tribes. “At the completion of the investigation, the SCA (State Compliance Agency) will forward a written report, including any suspected violations of law or the Model Tribal Gaming Compact, to the Tribal Compliance Agency and the Office of the Governor.”
Stephen Greetham, legal counsel for the Chickasaw Nation, issued a statement Friday questioning the action taken by the Stitt administration.
“On first review, it seems to provide more proof the State does not understand the compact,” Greetham said. “Based on past practice, it marks an ill-advised departure from our previously good working relationship, but perhaps that isn’t surprising given the state of things. Regardless, we look forward to discussing and clarifying matters with them in short order.”
In Fiscal Year 2019 alone, tribes paid the state more than $148 million in exclusivity fees.
In a related development, leaders of 32 tribes sent a letter to Stitt on Friday reiterating that they remain united in their belief that the gaming compacts automatically renew and criticizing the governor for remarks that indicated the state might take action against casino vendors.
“We regard your threats to our vendors, who are not parties to the compacts, as inappropriate,” the tribal leaders said. “As you know, the State has no legal authority to determine the legality of, or otherwise regulate, gaming on Indian land, including the acts of vendors in support of Tribal Governmental Gaming.”
The tribal leaders said they rejected Stitt’s claim that gaming will become illegal at tribal casinos on Jan. 1 unless an extension or new compact is reached before then.
“Your unfounded claim about illegal gaming is offensive to our hardworking employees, our citizens, and our numerous governmental and charitable organizations that benefit from our gaming,” they stated. “We are confident that those beneficiaries will continue to share, without interruption, the the fruits of our lawful governmental activity.
The tribal leaders also questioned the governor’s legal authority to offer an extension of the gaming compact.
“The People enacted the model Compact as an act of legislation and through their legislation offered it to our Nations and Tribes,” the tribal leaders wrote. “We see no participation by the Oklahoma Legislature in what is clearly an attempt to materially amend State law. We decline your unauthorized offer of an extension.”
Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt gestures during a news conference concerning the state’s compact with the Oklahoma Tribes for gambling during a news conference Tuesday, Dec. 17, 2019, in Oklahoma City. Stitt and the tribes are locked in an impasse over whether the 15-year agreements that give the…
Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt gestures during a news conference concerning the state’s compact with the Oklahoma Tribes for gambling during a news conference Tuesday, Dec. 17, 2019, in Oklahoma City. Stitt and the tribes are locked in an impasse over whether the 15-year agreements that give the tribes the exclusive rights to operate casinos in Oklahoma expire on Jan. 1. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)
For the past 30 years, staff writer Randy Ellis has exposed public corruption and government mismanagement in news articles. Ellis has investigated problems in Oklahoma’s higher education institutions and wrote stories that ultimately led to two… Read more ›