Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt overstepped his legal authority when he reached deals with two Native American tribes to allow sports gambling and the federal government should reject the proposals, Attorney General Mike Hunter said Tuesday.
In a formal opinion and in a letter to the U.S. secretary of the interior, Hunter, a fellow Republican, wrote that the governor lacks the authority to authorize a form of gambling that is currently prohibited under state law.
“Because the governor lacks authority to ‘enter into’ the agreements he has sent to you, those agreements fail to meet the requirements of (Indian Gaming Regulatory Act) to constitute a valid gaming compact under federal law,” Hunter wrote to U.S. Secretary of the Interior David Berhardt.
Stitt announced last month that he had signed new gaming compacts with the Otoe-Missouria Tribe and the Comanche Nation that would authorize both tribes to build new casinos, increase the state’s share of revenue from those casinos and allow sports gambling.
But the governor remains locked in a legal dispute over gambling with 10 other Oklahoma-based tribes who contend that their compacts with the state automatically renewed for another 15-year period. Stitt maintains those compacts expired on Jan. 1. A federal judge in the case has ordered both sides into mediation.
Stitt spokeswoman Baylee Lakey said in a statement the new compacts are “unquestionably legal and deliver unprecedented guarantees of clarity, stability and transparency for all sovereign parties, and for the benefit of all four million Oklahomans.”
Comanche Nation Chairman William Nelson Sr. and Otoe-Missouria Tribe Chairman John R. Shotton issued a joint statement saying the compacts were negotiated in good faith and they believe they’re legal.
“The political fight between the governor and the attorney general over sports betting is not our concern and does not impact the legality of the compacts,” they said. “We look forward to the approval of the compacts, which are good for our tribal members, our local communities and the state as a whole.”
The head of the Oklahoma Indian Gaming Commission praised Hunter in a statement for his “clear analysis of the law.”
“Oklahoma and the tribes deserve better than the carelessness Governor Stitt has brought to the table, and the attorney general’s analysis encourages us that we will be able to reestablish the sort of tribal-state engagement that conforms to the law and serves all of us well,” OIGA Chairman Matt Morgan said.
Casino gambling has become huge moneymakers for Native American tribes based in Oklahoma after they got the exclusive right to operate casinos under a voter-approved compact with the state 15 years ago. Dozens of casinos, including several glittering Las Vegas-scale complexes, generate more than $2 billion a year, with $150 million going to the state’s coffers last year, most of it earmarked for public schools.
All the casinos in the state have been shut down since March 23 amid the spread of the coronavirus, depriving both tribal nations and the state of much-needed revenue.
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