Point of view: Seeking a win for all Oklahomans
When I came into office, I inherited letters from two Oklahoma tribes concerned that their Model Gaming Compact would expire on Jan. 1, 2020. They explained that their compacts were “dated” and “unsuitable for the current and future business environment of gaming in Oklahoma” and asked that the state begin negotiating new gaming compacts.
I took those letters seriously and consulted numerous legal experts to learn more. They all agreed the compacts expired on Jan. 1. Therefore, in July 2019, I invited all Oklahoma tribes to discuss new gaming compacts. Our goal was to update compact terms to be more responsive to market conditions and to better account for the state’s interests while protecting economic growth and development for our tribal partners.
I still hold to that mission today.
I believe a new compact should more equitably allocate fees among tribes. It should include protections to require vendors not to exceed national market rates. And it should address changing market conditions.
The past 15 years have proven the exclusivity promised by the state to be more valuable than anyone anticipated. But that value hasn't been enjoyed equally by all tribes or shared appropriately with the state. Increasing fees at the highest market revenue levels to better support our public schools and mental health services while reducing fees to benefit the tribes operating smaller gaming operations ought to be a topic for discussion.
And 15 years ago, the parties knew that. They promised to renegotiate fees and exclusivity, regardless of whether the compacts renewed or expired. Unfortunately, most tribes have refused to renegotiate any part of the compact, unless the state first conceded that the compacts automatically renew indefinitely.
I have tried to protect tribal gaming, the public and our schools. The state attempted four times to initiate negotiations; the tribes repeatedly refused to listen to a proposal. The state proposed arbitration; the tribes refused. We offered an eight-month compact extension that preserved everyone’s legal arguments, to create more time for productive conversations. All but two tribes refused.
I was deeply disappointed that our most successful gaming tribes, the Chickasaw, Choctaw and Cherokee nations, rejected the extension and the state’s desire to resolve this outside of the courtroom, choosing instead to sue my office. At no point had the state attempted to disrupt gaming operations. No advantage is gained by harming tribal economies or compromising school funding while this dispute is being resolved.
With respect to the lawsuit, we will defend our interpretation of the compact expiration provision. The state has not authorized any electronic gaming since 2004, when Oklahoma voters approved the tribal-state compacts. I will work to enforce that expiration term because not doing so would allow the administrative acts of unelected officials to dictate state policy and effect significant changes in state governance.
As this lawsuit progresses, I will continue to pursue negotiations of a new gaming compact that enhances opportunities for Oklahoma’s tribes, of all sizes, to fairly compete for business to ensure that no party is adversely impacted once the court rules. I am ready to meet with the tribes, as I have been since July.
When we are all committed to listening to each other and coming together to one table, I am confident we can achieve a win-win for all 4 million Oklahomans today and well into the future.
Stitt was elected governor in November 2018.