The deadlock between Oklahoma’s Native American tribal casinos and Gov. Kevin Stitt continues with small vendors now facing the threat of becoming illegal through their association with tribal operators.
Governor Stitt Says Ready to Talk
Amid the ongoing dispute between Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt and tribal casino operators, business owners feel the pressure of a limbo that could affect their day-to-day activities as well as the state’s gaming compacts.
On January 1, 2020, casino games will be deemed illegal after Stitt and tribal leaders have failed to negotiate an extension of the compacts.
Stitt has insisted for more financial contributions to the state’s coffers with the tribes responding that the economic windfall for Oklahoma has been huge as is.
As a result, there has been talk about ‘tremendous uncertainty,’ which could lead to litigation, a slow year for tribes, potential layoffs, and ultimately – a big hit to the public purse. Baylee Lakey, a spokesperson for Stitt’s office, has welcomed the tribes to negotiate further.
And through this move, it seems the governor’s office has returned the ball in the native’s field. Yet, 32 Native American business heads have been vociferous about the governor’s “failure” to see the long-term consequences the impasse would have.
Vendors, native operators cautioned, would be among the most severely affected. Instead of promoting “a resolution within reach should Gov. Stitt respond,” the operators argued they would protect their business partners in the face of unlawful attempts to suspend operations.
In an official statement, the leaders had this to say:
“We regard your threats to our vendors, who are not parties to the compacts, as inappropriate. As you know, the state has no legal authority to determine the legality of, or otherwise regulate, gaming on Indian land, including the acts of vendors in support of the tribal governmental gaming. Of course, tribes are the primary regulators of those vendors.”
Compacts Hanging in the Balance
The issue that has torn apart Gov. Stitt and the tribes seems trivial. As it stands, the tribes claim they are entitled to compact renewals, but Gov. Stitt wants to charge them more for exclusivity rights.
Presently, the tribes are paying fees varying between 4% and 10%. While, the tribes are open to negotiating the rates of the fees – in their own words – they want the compacts to be renewed automatically.
Tribes admittedly contribute a fair chunk to the economy. Based on data from the American Gaming Association (AGA), some 141 casinos operate in Oklahoma. That amounts to almost $10 billion in economic benefits, plus 75,000 jobs.
Business Ready to Carry On, Tribes Ready to Protect Business
Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association Head Matthew Morgan has said that tribal operators are prepared to do everything to protect the interests of their vendors.
According to John Bunch, an owner in Pervasive Gaming, another Oklahoma-based vendor, things will be business as usual on January 1, 2020. That is even if the governor and tribes fail to find a solution in the 48 hours to the deadline.
Bunch was upbeat in his comments to Norman Transcript, a local newspaper. The governor doesn’t want to go out and “squash a small, minority-owned business,” he concluded.
Not many are as optimistic as Bunch.