klahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt said Tuesday that he's taking over gambling negotiations with Native American tribes from the attorney general and plans to hire his own out-of-state legal team. He also announced at a news conference that he intends to offer tribes an extension that would allow casino gambling to continue after Jan. 1, when Stitt maintains the current compacts expire.
“The language in this extension will allow each side who signs on to the extension to retain their legal positions," Stitt said, as reported by The Baltimore Sun. “I want business to continue as usual while we resolve this dispute."
Attorney General Mike Hunter took over several months ago as the state's lead negotiator with the tribes, but Stitt said Tuesday that he felt it was best to have “one unified voice." He said his office is working on finalizing a contract with an out-of-state law firm to assist his office in negotiating with the tribes.
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. Stitt says they do, and he wants to renegotiate for a larger percentage of casino revenue. Some tribal leaders have suggested that they're willing to renegotiate the fees they pay, but they first want Stitt to acknowledge that the compacts automatically renew.
To protect hard-working Oklahomans & tribal members employed at the 100+ casinos across the state, I have requested tribal leaders join me in signing an extension to the gaming compact. #OkGamingCompacts https://t.co/zjRTdYu0Tp pic.twitter.com/fruHIqihQZ— Governor Kevin Stitt (@GovStitt) December 17, 2019
Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association Chairman Matt Morgan said he couldn't comment on the idea of an extension since he hasn't seen any language, but he expressed disappointment with the governor. “Tribal leadership has been clear from the beginning — if he acknowledges auto-renewal, we’ll sit down and negotiate with him. But clearly he does not want to do that," he said. Morgan said he expects business to continue as usual at the state's tribal casinos after Jan. 1, and that the tribes are prepared to go to court, if necessary, to resolve the dispute.
Oklahoma’s current gambling compacts call for the tribes to pay between 4% and 10% of a casino’s net revenue in “exclusivity fees,” which gives tribes the exclusive rights to operate casinos in the state. Those fees generated nearly $139 million in payments to the state last year on roughly $2.3 billion in revenue from games covered under the compacts.
Nearly 60% of Oklahoma voters approved a state question in 2004 that authorized expanded gambling, and nearly all the tribal nations in Oklahoma signed compacts with the state shortly thereafter. Casino gambling is now a booming industry in Oklahoma, with 130 casinos dotting the state, ranging from gas station annexes to resort-style hotel casinos, many of them in border communities.