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Four Oklahoma tribes ask federal court in Washington D.C. to void two gaming compacts

In this Tuesday, July 23, 2019 photo, the interior of the casino at the WinStar World Casino and Resort is pictured in Thackerville, Okla. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)
In this Tuesday, July 23, 2019 photo, the interior of the casino at the WinStar World Casino and Resort is pictured in Thackerville, Okla. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

Four Oklahoma tribes filed a federal lawsuit against Gov. Kevin Stitt and the U.S Department of the Interior Friday seeking to void two gaming compacts that the department let take effect earlier this year between the governor and the Comanche Nation and Otoe-Missouria Tribe.

The Oklahoma Supreme Court declared the two gaming compacts void last month, ruling the governor lacked the authority to enter into gaming compacts that would authorize sports betting and house-banked card and table games. Such games are specifically prohibited by state law, the court said.

The Cherokee Nation, Chickasaw Nation, Choctaw Nation and Citizen Potawatomi Nation are now asking a federal court in Washington D.C. to take similar action.

"The agreements are not compacts because IGRA (the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act) requires that a compact have been legally entered into by both parties," the lawsuit states. "Gov. Stitt did not have authority to enter into the agreements on behalf of the state of Oklahoma."

The Department of the Interior allowed the two gaming compacts to go into effect by not taking action to disapprove them. The four suing tribes say the department's "no action approval" was "arbitrary, capricious, and contrary to law."

The tribes are asking the court to declare the compacts "void" and to rule that it is a federal violation of law for the Comanche Nation and Otoe-Missouria Tribe to continue offering Las Vegas-style Class III gaming at their casinos as if they had valid compacts.

The lawsuit lists numerous provisions in the compacts that the four tribes contend violate the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.

"The revenue sharing provisions of the agreements are invalid because those provisions were not agreed to in exchange for meaningful concession by the state of significant benefit to the tribes," the lawsuit states. "The agreements also violate IGRA by limiting the signatory tribes' conduct of Class II gaming activities in order to increase revenue sharing payments to the state from tribes' conduct of Class III gaming."

Class II games are derivatives of bingo and tribes are not required to share revenue with the state that comes from such games.

The lawsuit contends the compacts also violate the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act by committing the governor to concur in future off-reservation trust land acquisitions by the Comanche Nation and Otoe-Missouria Tribe for gaming purposes within Chickasaw and Citizen Potawatomi jurisdictional territory.

That "threatens the Chickasaw Nation's and Citizen Potawatomi Nation's jurisdictional integrity and sovereignty, and jeopardizes their ability to generate gaming revenue within their own territory," the lawsuit states.

Matthew L. Morgan, chairman of the Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association, issued a statement Friday in support of the lawsuit.

"It is sad that Governor Stitt has placed the tribal governments in this position," Morgan said. "OIGA continues to support our members’ rights to protect the integrity of their treaty territories and thanks these tribal governments for their work in protecting the Class III framework established by State Question 712 as approved by a vote of citizens of the State of Oklahoma."

"Governor Stitt never had the legal authority to enter into these gaming agreements," Morgan said. "The decision of the Oklahoma Supreme Court to declare those agreements invalid under Oklahoma law supported our position. Hopefully the suit filed today will bring an end to this unnecessary and costly chapter and allow all the state and tribal governments to move back to a proper government-to-government relationship that includes honest and respectful communications for the betterment of all of Oklahoma."

The lawsuit was filed late Friday afternoon and the governor could not be reached for comment.

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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