In Oklahoma and a federal judge has reportedly ordered the state to enter mediation talks with five of its casino-operating tribes in an attempt to resolve a contentious dispute over gaming compacts.
According to a report from The Oklahoman newspaper, Judge Timothy DeGiusti from the United States District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma issued the command on Monday in response to a lawsuit filed late last year by the Chickasaw Nation, the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, the Citizen Potawatomi Nation and the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma.
Oklahoma is reportedly home to approximately 130 tribal gambling establishments operated by some 31 tribes under 15-year gaming compacts that were signed in 2004. These enterprises purportedly range in size from a few machines placed inside small gas station annexes to large resort-style casino hotels such as the Quapaw Nation of Oklahoma’s Downstream Casino Resort located near the state’s borders with neighboring Missouri and Kansas.
The newspaper reported that these compact deals see the state collect an ‘exclusivity fee’ of between 4% and 10% of each aboriginal venue’s gambling revenues in exchange for promising not to legalize non-tribal gaming. However, Oklahoma purportedly accumulated only about $139 million via these duties for the entirety of 2018, which prompted Governor Kevin Stitt (pictured) to pronounce in July that he would be renegotiating these soon-to-expire arrangements complete with a range of higher levies.
However, The Oklahoman reported that the five casino-operating tribes responded in court by asserting that their gaming compacts contain automatic 15-year extensions that can only be voluntarily surrendered. The state purportedly disagreed and is now claiming that the aboriginal groups have been illegally operating Las Vegas-style games since the start of the year.
The newspaper reported that Judge DeGiusti’s ruling gives both parties until Friday afternoon to submit a list of three proposed mediators while additionally allowing other tribes to join the battle so long as they have filed the appropriate paperwork by the aforementioned deadline. The Oklahoma native also promised to quickly appoint his own arbitrator or ask for additional names should he find none of the suggested parties acceptable.
DeGiusti moreover stated that he wants to receive a joint report on the status of the proceedings within 21 days of the appointment of a mediator in hopes that the entire process can be ‘completed or substantially completed not later than March 31, 2020,’ which his order is said to have referred to as ‘a firm deadline,’
Sara Hill, Attorney General for the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, reportedly told the newspaper that she is glad to see the case progressing in advance of explaining that all five tribes intend to continue making ‘exclusivity payments’ under the rules of their previous gaming compacts throughout the duration of mediation proceedings.
Hill reportedly told The Oklahoman…
“We appreciate the opportunity to get these proceedings underway and look forward to working with the court to resolve the renewal dispute.”
The newspaper reported that the mediation order was furthermore welcomed by Stitt with the 47-year-old Republican proclaiming that he is now ‘committed to engaging in good-faith negotiations’ in hopes of achieving ‘a productive solution’ that will be good for the four million residents of Oklahoma as well as the state’s many sovereign tribes.