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Gov. Stitt and tribal leaders verbally spar over gaming compacts

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Gov. Kevin Stitt and representatives of Oklahoma's gaming tribes resumed their war of words Thursday, with Stitt claiming a tribal lawsuit against the state boils down to tribes not wanting to pay the state market value for the right to conduct Las Vegas-style gaming in Oklahoma.

"They want to continue getting the best deal in the country and pay 4% to 6% when market is closer to 25%," Stitt said. "This is about them not wanting to pay more. ... Let's just call a spade a spade."

Stephen Greetham, senior counsel for the Chickasaw Nation, strongly disputed Stitt's claim.

"Oklahoma is doing better than any state in the country under this compact," Greetham said.

Records show tribes paid the state more than $148 million in exclusivity fees in fiscal year 2019.

Greetham said tribes are willing to talk about rate changes, but first they want a federal judge to rule on the tribes' position that the 15-year tribal gaming compacts automatically renewed on Jan. 1. Stitt contends the compacts expired.

"The problem is that Gov. Stitt thinks it's his way or the highway, that he has ... some unilateral right that he claims under the state constitution — which he does not have — to tear up our compact and dictate terms to us," Greetham said.

Stitt spoke out Thursday at a media availability session where he was questioned about his decision to switch from using the international law firm Perkins Coie to using two local law firms, the Ryan Whaley firm and the Lytle, Soule & Felty firm.

Stitt said when he hired Perkins Coie on Dec. 15 he was looking for a firm with the expertise to draft a fair compact. Stitt said the state's legal needs changed when the Cherokee, Chickasaw and Choctaw nations filed a lawsuit against the state on New Year's Eve.

"I feel like our best chance to win is with local counsel in the federal courts," Stitt said. "We think we've got a fantastic team."

Perkins Coie, the firm that Stitt is dropping, has served as counsel to the Democratic National Committee.

Asked if that played a role in the decision to switch, Stitt, a Republican, responded that he didn't know who Perkins Coie had represented.

One of the new attorneys Stitt chose to represent the state is Steven Mullins, former general counsel for then-Gov. Mary Fallin.

Mullins drew strong criticism from an Oklahoma grand jury back in 2016 for having pushed to go through with the execution of death row inmate Richard Glossip, even after officials discovered a mistake had been made in the drugs to be used for the lethal injection.

"It is unacceptable for the governor's general counsel to so flippantly and recklessly disregard the written protocol and the rights of Richard Glossip," the grand jury said in its report. The execution was ultimately called off.

Mullins and Matthew Felty of the Lytle, Soule & Felty law firm will be paid $325 and hour and $300 an hour, respectively, under Stitt's new contract with the firm. The firm's professional fees under the contract are capped at $100,000.

The contract with Ryan Whaley calls for attorneys Phillip Whaley, Patrick Ryan, Patrick Pearce Jr., Daniel Webber Jr. and Matthew Kane to be paid hourly fees that will range from $325 to $400. Payments to that firm will be capped at $300,000.

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Stitt

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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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