The Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that gaming compacts signed by Gov. Kevin Stitt with the Comanche Nation and Otoe-Missouria Tribe are invalid.
The compacts were announced in April and in early June state Senate President Pro Tem Greg Treat and House Speaker Charles McCall filed the lawsuit, saying Stitt could not agree to provisions in the compacts that are not allowed under Oklahoma law, according to the Tulsa World.
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While the two compacts briefly gave the tribes the ability to offer sports betting, they chose not to offer it because of the litigation. Sports betting remains illegal in the state.
In Tuesday’s ruling, the Supreme Court said Stitt must negotiate any new deals with the tribes under existing laws.
“The tribal gaming compacts Governor Stitt entered into with the Comanche Nation and Otoe-Missouria Tribes are invalid under Oklahoma law,” the opinion said, according to The World. “The State of Oklahoma is not and cannot be legally bound by those compacts until such time as the Legislature enacts laws to allow the specific Class III gaming at issue, and in turn, allowing the Governor to negotiate additional revenue.”
The gaming compacts with the Comanche Nation and Otoe-Missouria Tribe became official on June 29 when the U.S. Department of the Interior published the compacts in the Federal Register. But before sports betting could be launched, the state Supreme Court began hearing the case on July 1 to clarify the governor’s rights to negotiate such deals.
Keeping the Decision in Oklahoma
When Treat and McCall announced their lawsuit in June, they felt the case should be resolved in an Oklahoma court, not federal court, according to the Associated Press.
“Federal judges decide matters of federal law, not matters of state law, and at issue is a matter of state law,” Treat said in early June, according to published reports. “Asking federal judges to decide a matter of state law is a dangerous intrusion into states’ rights.”
A federal judge in June declined Stitt’s request to determine his authority to enter into the compacts. The federal government approved the gambling compacts that are the subject of the lawsuit on June 8, but they did not become official until published in the Federal Register.
Stitt, who announced the Comanche Nation and Otoe-Missouria Tribe compacts on April 21, still faces a legal dispute over tribal gambling with other tribes in the state. At the announcement ceremony, Stitt said “moving forward, the state will continue to negotiate with individual tribes, leaving behind the one-size-fits-all approach to the Model Gaming Compact.”
The Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association suspended the memberships of Otoe-Missouria and Comanche Nation for signing the gaming compacts. They were suspended for the remainder of the calendar year, after which time they could seek reinstatement, the association said in a statement.
Attorney General Came Out Against the Deals
State Attorney General Mike Hunter issued a formal opinion May 5 saying Stitt cannot enter into new gaming compacts with the two tribal nations that authorize sports betting. Sports betting has not been approved by the state legislature.
A second suit is also pending before the state’s high court. Stitt signed new gaming compacts July 1 with the Kialegee Tribal Town and Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians just as the Supreme Court started considering the case involving Stitt and the Comanche Nation and Otoe-Missouria Tribe, according to the Associated Press.
Matthew Morgan, the chairman of the Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association, immediately challenged the legality of the new compacts, The Oklahoman reported. The new compacts don’t including sports betting, according to published reports, and must be approved by the federal government.
“We agree with Oklahoma’s legislative leadership and Attorney General Mike Hunter that Gov. Kevin Stitt unilaterally entering into new gaming agreements with tribal nations violates state law,” Morgan said when the new compacts were announced.