Oklahoma Lawmakers Appeal to State Supreme Court over Tribal Conflict

Following months of prolonged tit-for-tat exchanges between Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt and the state’s tribal operators, no solution is in sight. In the latest move, Republican lawmakers have appealed to the state Supreme Court to settle the ongoing conflict which was sparked earlier this year with the governor trying to renegotiate tribal compacts.

Republicans Urge Oklahoma Supreme Court to Settle Tribal Dispute

Oklahoma Republican lawmakers will seek an out from the ongoing conflict between Native American tribes and the state governor, Kevin Stitt. In their appeal to the state Supreme Court lodged on Thursday, the Republican legislators argued that Gov. Stitt had overstepped his authority in sealing deals with individual tribes, enabling them to offer sports gambling.

The governor decided to ink a separate partnership with compliant tribal operators, adding the Red Rock, Otoe-Missouria Tribe and Comanche Nation as part of a new deal signed in April.

The move prompted the suspension of two tribes, and specifically the Otoe-Missouria and Comanche tribes from the Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association, marking an unprecedented rift in relationships between tribes. However, all tribes that have been awarded a deal with the state intend to defend them as “complaint with federal and state law,” the Associated Press reported.

Gov. Stitt negotiated additional revenue for the state from new casinos and allowed the aforementioned to legally continue operations whereas the rest of Oklahoma’s tribes remained at daggers drawn with the governor.

The conflict even prompted Attorney General Mike Hunter to send a letter to the US Department of the Interior and request the DOI to intervene and make a ruling. In fact, for any of the new compacts introduced by Gov. Stitt to be legal, the DOI has to ratify them, with AG Hunter opposing one such move and advising the DOI against it.

Gov. Stitt has responded to the above by challenging the position in a federal court, but Senate President Pro Tem Greg Treat then advised federal judges to consider what many believed to be a “dangerous intrusion into states’ rights” on the part of the governor.

A Dangerous Gambit for the Losing Party

Originally, the conflict between the governor’s office and the tribes began when Gov. Stitt sought to renegotiate higher taxes from tribal operators. He specifically asked for higher “exclusivity taxes.” Paying these taxes gives Oklahoma’s tribes full control over the state’s gambling industry as they don’t have to compete with any commercial brands.

However, since at least February, Gov. Stitt has been urging for a more competitive business climate. The governor expressed a hypothetical opinion to introduce commercial casinos in a bid to secure additional money for the state.

Speaking to Tulsa World, an Oklahoma newspaper, the governor said that adding commercial casinos would mean additional $350 million for the state. That money would be generated from just four commercial licenses he clarified.

Tribal operators paid around $150 million for their exclusivity fees in 2019, which the governor sees as insufficient. In defending his determination in pushing a more diverse and competitive industry, he had this to say: “I think there’s a win-win. There’s a win for the casino industry, there’s a win for tribes and there’s a win for the state of Oklahoma and education.”

Whether he is right may now hinge on a court ruling that neither party is very likely to accept lightly.

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