Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt has warned that while he will not appeal against a US District Court ruling stating tribal gaming compacts in the state automatically renewed in January this year, the decision will cause difficulties for the state in future.
Stitt had previously that claimed the existing 15-year compacts with tribes did not automatically renew for another 15 years and would have to be renegotiated in order to continue.
However, tribes including the Cherokee, Chickasaw and Choctaw Nations argued that these compacts were automatically renewed in January – a view supported by US District Court Judge Timothy DeGiusti at a hearing in July.
Upon announcing the ruling, DeGiusti said the compacts allowed for automatic renewal if other non-tribal organisations were authorized to offer electronic gaming other than on-course pari-mutuel wagering.
Stitt had voiced his displeasure at the ruling, but has now stated that he will not lodge an appeal against the decision.
The Governor added that the ruling, coupled with the decision in the McGirt vs Oklahoma case – which ruled that much of the eastern portion of the state of Oklahoma remains as Native American lands – raises a number of challenges for the gambling market moving forward.
“It is essential for state and tribal leaders to join together to resolve the challenges this ruling presents for Oklahomans and their businesses,” Stitt said.
“For Oklahoma to become a Top Ten state, we must work together to find solutions that respect the unique relationship between the State of Oklahoma and its tribal citizens and that provide certainty and fairness for all Oklahomans.
“Our state agencies regularly cooperate with the tribes on matters involving public safety, health care, human services, transportation, education, the environment, energy and many other areas. I hope this can continue, as together we are ‘One Oklahoma’.”
Stitt’s decision not to appeal the ruling seemingly brings to an end a legal debate that has clouded the future of the state’s gambling market this year.
In April, Stitt signed compacts with the Otoe-Missouria Tribe and the Comanche Nation, allowing the tribes to offer Class III games such as sports betting, poker, roulette, slots and blackjack.
However, the compacts faced heavy criticism from the state legislature and other tribal operators, with the Oklahoma Supreme Court eventually voting to reject the two compacts after ruling their were invalid under state law.
The state’s Supreme Court voted 7-1 to reject the compacts, ruling the deals cannot be deemed legal as they include games that have not yet been approved in the state and therefore generating revenue from the games is prohibited.
Stitt in July also negotiated compacts with Oklahoma’s Kialegee Tribal Town (KTT) and the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians (UKB), covering Class III and table games, though not sports betting. These compacts, the Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association argues, are also invalid as they were negotiated and signed while the core issues regarding existing tribal compacts was yet to be adjudicated.
The US Department of the Interior in August ratified these two compacts.