Stitt Strikes Again: Oklahoma High Court Dismisses Two More Tribal Gaming Compacts

  • United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians, Kialegee Tribal Town compacts deemed invalid
  • Terms differ from 2004 model compact, received no joint legislative committee approval
  • Supreme Court last year also rejected two other tribal gaming agreements reached with Gov. Stitt 
  • Federal judge in a separate suit overruled Stitt's claim that original compacts expired January 1, 2020
judge's gavel on book
The Oklahoma Supreme Court has dismissed another two gaming compacts Gov. Stitt agreed with tribes that operate casinos in the state. [Image: Shutterstock.com]

Not valid under state law

The Oklahoma Supreme Court has dismissed another two of Governor Kevin Stitt’s gaming compacts with tribes in the state. This is the latest blow for the Republican governor, who has been trying to negotiate such compacts for some time.

The Supreme Court issued its ruling on January 26, stating that the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians and the Kialegee Tribal Town compacts do not comply with state law.

negotiating terms that differ from those included in a model compact that got voter approval

A key reason for the rejection was down to Governor Stitt negotiating terms that differ from those included in a model compact that got voter approval in 2004. A joint legislative committee also did not approve the compacts. As a result, these deals were deemed to unsettle “the proper balance between the executive and legislative branches.”

Reacting to the court’s decision, Governor Stitt stated on Wednesday that he plans to review gaming compacts alongside the joint legislative committee in the future. Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association chairman Matthew Morgan was appreciative of the ruling’s “clarity and succinct wisdom.”

Governor oversteps his authority, again

Governor Stitt’s attempts to agree compacts have been facing a lot of resistance from lawmakers and certain tribes. Two separate lawsuits brought by Senate President Pro Tempore Greg Treat and Speaker of the House Charles McCall last year were the basis of Tuesday’s Supreme Court ruling. The complaints alleged that the governor had overstepped his legal authority when negotiating the two compacts.

allowance for sports betting and house-banked casino games, despite such activities being illegal in the state

A July 2020 ruling in the high court came to a similar conclusion when it determined that Stitt’s compacts with the Otoe-Missouria Tribe of Indians and the Comanche Nation were not valid. One of the main complaints in the case was that the Oklahoma governor had included an allowance for sports betting and house-banked casino games, despite such activities being illegal in the state.

Basis of the compacts dispute

The tribal gaming compacts in Oklahoma have been a matter of dispute for more than a year. Governor Stitt believes the compacts expired on January 1, 2020. As a result, he has been trying to negotiate new agreements that would give the state a higher cut of the tribes’ gaming revenue. 

However, many of the state’s tribal operators argued that the compacts met the necessary requirements for automatic renewal for another 15-year term. A federal judge ruled in favor of the tribes last July, agreeing that they automatically renewed at the start of the year. 

Currently, there are about 130 casinos of all shapes and sizes in Oklahoma after state residents voted in favor of gambling expansion back in 2004. In 2020, the casino-operating tribes paid $123.6m in exclusivity fees to the state. The COVID-19 pandemic had a significant negative impact on casinos in 2020, with the state’s fees down 16.6% year-on-year.

A large portion of the funds obtained from gaming revenue in Oklahoma goes towards education programs in the state.