Oklahoma’s governor should halt efforts to force tribal governments to renegotiate the terms of gaming compacts from which the state reaps tens of millions of dollars annually.
Gov. Kevin Stitt has complained the fees by tribes in exchange for the exclusive right to offer certain types of casino games are set much lower than 20 percent to 25 percent fees assessed by other states. In Oklahoma those fees range from 4 percent to 10 percent and would remain at those levels for another 15 years upon renewal of the compacts on Jan. 1.
The new governor’s demand to renegotiate the 15-year compacts, which tribal leaders contend renew automatically, is short-sighted if his goal is to pad state coffers and improve services provided to Oklahomans. Tribal governments have proven to be effective stewards of gaming revenue, and that is likely to continue long into the future if the state stays out of the way.
A recent study shows Oklahoma’s 38 federally recognized tribes contributed $12.93 billion to the state’s economy in fiscal year 2017, paying more than $4.6 billion in wages and benefits and supporting more than 96,100 direct and indirect jobs. While Oklahoma lawmakers prohibited municipalities and county governments from setting minimum wages higher than the $7.25 an hour established by the state, some tribal governments took steps to raise the minimum wages.
Tribal governments also invested in roads and bridges, education, and health care. State officials, on the other hand, have refused steadfastly to expand access to health care for those who can least afford it and offered up some money for education only after there was a statewide uprising of educators and their supporters.
Chickasaw Nation Gov. Bill Anoatubby wrote in a letter sent earlier this week to the U.S. Department of Interior that any “attempt to disrupt our Tribal government gaming operations would present an intolerable risk of injury to the Chickasaw Nation and its citizens.” He likely understated the impact of any meddling by the state.
Gaming has provided a source of revenue for tribes, which has provided greater opportunities for self-governance and self-determination. These sovereign nations have proven themselves beneficial to Oklahoma, not burdensome — efforts to undermine them would be detrimental to everyone in our state.