TULSA — Tribal leaders representing almost every federally recognized tribe in Oklahoma gathered Wednesday to express their unified opposition to Gov. Kevin Stitt’s offer to extend for eight months gaming compacts they contend will renew automatically at year’s end.
Demonstrating their solidarity and dispelling Stitt’s assertion of emerging division, tribal representatives called for the governor to “put an end to his self-created crisis.” Some said the governor should “apologize” for the way he initiated discussions about the gaming compacts.
Voter-approved compacts granted Oklahoma’s tribes exclusive rights to operate casinos in exchange for the payment of fees that range from 4% to 10%. Stitt, who believes those fees should be higher and more in line with other states, contends the 15-year compacts will expire Jan. 1, but tribal leaders disagree.
Stitt offered on Tuesday to extend the compacts for eight months for the purported purpose of protecting “the parties’ legal positions and provide legal certainty to those working with or visiting the casinos.” While pitching the offer during a press conference, Stitt alluded to some fracturing of the united front tribal leaders have portrayed since the governor announced his intent to renegotiate the terms of the gaming compacts and increase exclusivity fees.
Matthew L. Morgan, Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association chairman, said Thursday during a press conference at River Spirit Resort and Casino “there is no need for an extension.” He said while tribal leaders have expressed their willingness to negotiate exclusivity fee rates, they “stand united today in inviting Gov. Stitt to put an end to his self-created crisis by accepting auto-renewal and coming to the table with a reasonable proposal that will provide value to the tribes and the state.”
Stitt, in a media release distributed after his offer was rejected, said he was “disappointed that the tribes turned our offer down and refused our requests to negotiate new compact terms that better address the parties’ changing needs.” Stitt said he will “continue to work to protect the state’s interests” and hopes “those running the casino industry will negotiate with the state in good faith as these compacts demand.”
Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. said tribal leaders have said from the beginning they are prepared to discuss any “realistic and reasonable proposal” once Stitt acknowledges the gaming compacts renew automatically.
“But I want to be clear about this: It will be a discussion that delivers value for value to the tribes and the state, and it will continue to be win-win,” Hoskin said. “The compact works, it is not broke, and it will continue to work for many years to come, and it will continue Jan. 1, 2020.”
Principal Chief James Floyd of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation said tourism “is a key economic generator” in the state, and Oklahoma tribes “are the top producers of tourism revenue” in Oklahoma.” Citing financial risks and capital investments made by tribes in their facilities, Floyd said it will be “business as usual on Jan. 1.”
That “includes our commitment as tribal nations in building roads and bridges, in opening hospitals and health clinics in rural Oklahoma, investing in regional economic development and projects to create jobs, financially supporting nonprofit organizations, and most importantly in continuing education resources and scholarships,” Floyd said. “All of this benefits the citizens of our communities, the citizens across our state, and all of the citizens of the state of Oklahoma.”
Morgan said tribal leaders would rather this issue be settled without the need for “a protracted, multi-year legal battle,” but they are prepared to do so if necessary.