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Two tribes defend new gaming compacts

Two tribes that broke away from other Oklahoma tribes to sign gaming compacts with Gov. Kevin Stitt say the amount of annual exclusivity fees they owe the state will drop by hundreds of thousands of dollars if the new agreements gain approval.

The flat 4.5% revenue sharing rate that the Comanche Nation and Otoe-Missouria Tribe would be required to pay the state under the controversial new compacts is considerably less than the blended rates they have been paying under old compacts, tribal leaders say. The old compacts have required tribes to pay from 4% to 6% of revenues from electronic games, depending on the revenue volume, and 10% of net win from table games.

The Comanche Nation said it paid the state a blended rate of 5.92% last year. If the tribe's new compact had been in place, it would have owed the state $874,832 less than the $3,648,711 it ended up paying, tribal leaders said.

Those payments, which are used to support education, were based on gross revenues of $59.1 million from electronic games and $2.5 million from table games.

Leaders of the Otoe-Missouria Tribe say they paid the state just over $2 million in revenue sharing payments last year, but would have owed the state $375,854 less if the new compacts had been in place.

Last year's payments were based on revenues of $35.5 million from electronic games and $2.6 million from table games, with a blended rate of 5.49%, tribal officials said.

"As these numbers plainly illustrate, the Comanche Nation and the Otoe-Missouria Tribe will benefit immensely from this new revenue-share structure," Comanche Nation Chairman William Nelson Sr. and Otoe-Missouria Tribe Chairman John Shotton said in one of two letters they have written to U.S Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt.

It is Bernhardt's job to approve the compacts, reject them or let them go into effect without taking action. A decision is expected by June 8.

Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter and at least three other gaming tribes have written letters to Bernhardt questioning the legality of the compacts and urging their rejection. The letters from Nelson and Shotton are an effort to counter that opposition.

"The complaints from our fellow tribes have no legitimate legal basis, as the compacts are legal, were negotiated in good faith and should be approved," Shotten said in a prepared statement that was released along with copies of the letters.

Hunter focused much of his criticism of the compacts on the governor granting his approval for the tribes to engage in sports betting and house-banked card and table games. Hunter said are those are not legal under state law.

The Comanche and Otoe-Missouria tribes insist that shouldn't be an issue.

"Under the compacts, event wagering (sports betting) can only be conducted 'to the extent such wagers are authorized by law,'" tribal leaders said in a news release. "Therefore, if it is determined event wagering or house-banked table and card games are not authorized by law, the tribes cannot offer those games in their gaming facilities."

Other tribes that criticized the compacts raised a number of additional issues, including whether some of the concessions the state made in the compacts were more illusions than reality.

One of the hottest points of contention is the governor granting his approval for the Comanche and Otoe-Missouria tribes to each build up to three new tribal casinos outside their tribal jurisdictions — and in some cases within the jurisdictions of other tribes.

Other tribes have strongly objected to these provisions, calling them a "provocative attack" on their sovereignty and tribal jurisdictions. They say the U.S. Interior Department has traditionally rejected such requests and questioned whether the provisions have any true value to the tribes since they view them as unlikely to be fulfilled.

The governor, who has said he wanted to renegotiate the compacts to get more money for the state, is apparently relying on those provisions and the addition of sports betting to get more money from the tribes. Under the compacts, the Comanche and Otoe-Missouria would be required to pay much higher revenue-sharing rates on revenue generated by the proposed new casinos.

In their response letter, the Comanche and Otoe-Missouria tribes note they would not be able to build the new casinos without going through an additional federal approval process that would involve getting the land put into trust and persuading officials that it would be in the best interests of their tribes and would not be detrimental to surrounding communities.

Other tribes would have a chance to object at that time, they said.

"When that process moves forward, Chickasaw, Quapaw, Wichita, and any other interested tribe will undoubtedly be allowed to have their voices be heard," the two tribes said. "But their complaint about the potential acquisition of trust land has nothing to do with the compacts' legality."

The tribes said they believe they have a legitimate historical basis for requesting that land for casinos be placed in trust for them outside of their tribal jurisdictions, but said even if that never happens, they will still come out ahead because they will be paying a lower revenue sharing rate.

Randy Ellis

For the past 30 years, staff writer Randy Ellis has exposed public corruption and government mismanagement in news articles. Ellis has investigated problems in Oklahoma's higher education institutions and wrote stories that ultimately led to two... Read more ›

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