Federal Judge Rules in Favor of Oklahoma Gaming Tribes

  • A federal judge ruled that the Oklahoma tribal gaming compacts automatically renewed January 1
  • Governor Kevin Stitt wanted to negotiate a higher government share of casino revenue
  • The judge ruled that all conditions for the automatic renewal of the 2004 compact were met
Closeup of judge banging a gavel
A federal judge has ruled against Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt, saying that the Oklahoma tribal gaming compacts should have been automatically renewed in January. [Image: Shutterstock.com]

A final decision

A federal judge has ruled that the Oklahoma tribal gaming compacts automatically renewed at the start of 2020 for another 15-year period. This seemingly ends an ongoing legal dispute on the issue between Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt and many of the state’s gaming tribes. 

Stitt was claiming that these compacts did not renew automatically

Stitt was claiming that these compacts did not renew automatically and was looking to negotiate new deals so that the state could get a greater cut of casino gaming revenues. US District Court Judge Timothy DeGiusti handed down his ruling on Tuesday; the parties have until August 7 to bring up any other issues that may still be in dispute.

Compact dispute

Leaders of these tribes previously said that they were willing to come to the table to negotiate new gaming fees if the governor agreed to renew the contracts.

When Governor Stitt refused to acknowledge the automatic renewal of the compacts, the Chickasaw, Choctaw, and Cherokee nations sued him in federal court. Some of the other tribes in the state also joined the legal action. 

A clause in the 2004 compact stated that the agreement would get automatic renewal with the exact same terms if the racetracks in the state got approval to offer electronic gaming through any state government action or court order.

the issuance of these licenses was deemed to be “governmental action”

The Oklahoma Horse Racing Commission has issued electronic gaming licenses to racetracks and tribal casinos over the years, as recently as October 2019. Therefore, the issuance of these licenses was deemed to be “governmental action” and meet the conditions of automatic renewal of the gaming compacts. 

Stitt argued that the track licenses were approved before the compacts came into effect and as a result, the issuance of licenses did not qualify as a form of governmental action. Judge DeGiusti disagreed with the governor and stated that the licenses were issued after the effective date of the compact

Another loss for the governor

In addition to dealing with this lawsuit, Governor Stitt also got into hot water for signing state compacts with two tribes in April without having the necessary clearance to do so. He was trying to allow the Otoe-Missouria Tribe and Comanche Nation to offer sports betting despite it not being legal in the state.

The Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled that Governor Stitt overstepped his authority when agreeing to the compacts with the two tribes, deeming the new compacts invalid since sports betting was not yet approved by the state legislature.

It was also recently revealed that the governor’s legal battle with the tribes cost the state more than $1.5m in legal fees. Some state officials say that these fees were unnecessary as the governor could have worked with the tribes to come to an agreement.