Federal Government Approves Two Oklahoma Tribal Gambling Compacts

  • US Department of Interior approved the gambling compacts after a 45-day review period
  • Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter criticized the federal agency’s “irresponsible inaction”
  • Governor Stitt is in a legal dispute with other state tribes and legislators over previous compacts
Person stamping paperwork "approved"
The federal government has approved two controversial gambling compacts between the state of Oklahoma and the Comanche Nation and Otoe-Missouria Tribe. [Image: Shutterstock.com]

Update: Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt announced on July 3 that he signed a further two gaming compacts with the Kialegee Tribal Town and the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians.

As part of the agreement, the Kialegee tribe is allowed to build a casino in eastern Oklahoma County. The United Keetoowah Band will be able to construct and operate a casino in Logan County. The compacts give both tribes the go-ahead to offer Class III games and table games but exclude sports betting options.

Governor appreciative of tribes

The United States Department of the Interior has green-lighted new gambling compacts between the state of Oklahoma and two Native American tribes. Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt announced the approval on Monday. 

a more level playing field and modernized gaming market in Oklahoma”

The compacts with the Comanche Nation and Otoe-Missouria Tribe had to wait for the expiration of a 45-day review period before receiving approval. 

In a statement, Governor Stitt thanked the leaders of the two tribes for their hard work in striving for “a more level playing field and modernized gaming market in Oklahoma.”

State Attorney General unhappy

Stitt remains embroiled in a legal quarrel with the other tribes in the state and lawmakers in his own Republican party over tribal gambling.

Republican Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter claimed that Stitt was out of bounds with the compacts and called on the Department of the Interior to reject them. After hearing the news of their approval, Hunter criticized the federal agency for its “thoughtless and irresponsible inaction.”

I am deeply disappointed”

He emphasized that the two tribes will not be able to operate as per the new compacts until certain issues have been resolved in front of the Oklahoma Supreme Court. The Attorney General concluded by saying: “I am deeply disappointed in Interior Secretary (David) Bernhardt’s abdication of his responsibility to all of Oklahoma’s Native American sovereigns, not just two.”

Compacts broaden tribes’ reach

The new compacts allow the tribes to offer new types of gambling such as sports betting. They would also be able to build casinos closer to metropolitan areas. In return, the state would get an increased portion of the casino revenue. There is currently no indication as to when these compacts might take effect. 

Attorney General Hunter believes that sports betting is still illegal according to Oklahoma state law. He also stated that the construction of any new casinos by the two tribes would likely be met with significant resistance from tribes that have existing casinos in those areas.

The state’s Republican legislative leaders asked the Oklahoma Supreme Court last week to make a decision on whether or not Governor Stitt exceeded his authority in signing the two new compacts.

Legal action against Governor Stitt

Ten of the tribes in the state have sued Governor Stitt over gaming compacts. The legal action dates back to the end of 2019 when the Choctaw, Chickasaw, and Cherokee nations filed a suit against Governor Stitt over a disagreement about the renewal of the previous tribal gambling compacts.

The dispute revolves around whether or not the 15-year compacts expired on January 1, 2020 or if all requirements were met by the tribes for automatic renewal. Governor Stitt believes the compacts expired, while the tribes are of the opinion that they auto-renewed.

Chickasaw Nation’s senior counsel Stephen Greetham says that the compacts with the Comanche Nation and Otoe-Missouria Tribe are only authorized in terms of not being in violation of federal law. In a statement, Greetham explained: “The risk of the agreements’ illegality remains with Governor Stitt and the two signing Tribes, and since several federal law defects have already been publicly documented, more litigation is likely.”