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DoI ratifies Oklahoma tribal compacts


The US Department of the Interior has approved the two most recent gaming compacts, signed by Oklahoma’s Kialegee Tribal Town (KTT) and the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians (UKB). 

The compacts, negotiated and signed by Governor Kevin Stitt in July this year, cover Class III and table games, though not sports betting. 

The KTT deal increases the basic tax on slots to 12% of gross revenue for the first two years, before raising it to 13% on revenue up to $300m, then 14% for revenue between $300m and $500m, and 15% on revenue above this sum. 

The UKB deal, on the other hand, sets a 12% GGR tax on revenue up to $300m, increasing to 13% for revenue up to $500m, then to 15% on revenue above $500m. 

The compacts also give the KTT rights to open a new casino in Eastern Oklahoma County, and UKB a similar facility in Logan County.

“The US Department of Interior recognizes the State’s good faith effort to negotiate with Oklahoma tribes in the approval of two new gaming compacts that will generate new revenue for public schools in the future and expand economic opportunity for our tribal partners,” Stitt said.

“I appreciate and respect the thoughtful leadership of Mekko Brian Givens and Chief Joe Bunch who worked hard to secure fair terms for their citizens, and whose contributions throughout the negotiations ensured a competitive gaming market in Oklahoma,” he continued.

“With these new gaming compacts, Oklahoma is ushering in a new era of prosperity, opportunity, and partnership for the State and the Tribes.”

He said the new compacts with KTT and UKB represent a “new, modern approach to State-Tribal gaming and relationships” that look beyond a fixed model for all partners.

KTT Mekko (chief) Brian Givens thanked Stitt and his administration, saying the compact would provide his Tribe with the same economic opportunities that others have enjoyed. 

“As an agreement between two sovereign entities, I see this act of good faith in continuing our relationship with the State of Oklahoma and look forward to future dialogue to improve our local communities,” Givens said.

UKB chief Joe Bunch added: “It is a great day as we prepare to partner with the State of Oklahoma in this Class III gaming compact that will be good for Logan County, the State and the United Keetoowah Band. 

“Our compact will help provide much needed resources to our tribe and surrounding communities as we continue to develop a robust economy and exercise our tribal sovereignty.”

The tribes can begin operating under the terms set out in the compacts once the agreements are published in the Federal Register.

The compacts have been agreed amid an increasingly fraught relationship between Stitt and Oklahoma’s Native American tribes. Last year Stitt had looked to engage a number of tribes that run gaming operations to renegotiate compacts agreed in 2004, only for the tribes to argue that these agreements automatically renewed, making negotiation unnecessary. 

This dispute ultimately progressed to the US District Court for Western Oklahoma, which ruled that the compacts did in fact automatically renew from 1 January, 2020. Stitt said he was “bitterly disappointed” with the judgement, claiming that Oklahoma citizens had to “bear the cost” of a deal poorly negotiated by a prior administration. 

Two tribal compacts, agreed with the Otoe-Missouria Tribe and the Comanche Nation in April, aimed to facilitate the launch of sports betting on tribal lands.

However, these were attacked not only by other tribes – which suspended the Otoe-Missouria and Comanche from the state Indian Gaming Association – but by Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter.

Opposition centred around the inclusion of sports betting, which is currently unregulated in Oklahoma.

Under state law, Stitt as Governor only has the authority to sign agreements covering products that are legal and regulated. While the compacts were approved by the Department of the Interior, the Oklahoma Supreme Court ultimately rejected them on this basis.