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State's largest gaming tribes head to federal court to try to resolve compact dispute

OKLAHOMA CITY — The state’s three largest gaming tribes on Tuesday filed a federal lawsuit seeking to resolve a dispute with Gov. Kevin Stitt over tribal gaming compacts.

The Cherokee, Chickasaw and Choctaw nations filed suit in federal court in Oklahoma City. The three tribes operate the most casinos in the state.

The suit, naming Stitt as the defendant, seeks a judicial declaration that tribal gaming compacts renew on Wednesday.

Stitt and the tribes are at an impasse on the gaming compacts.

The governor believes the compacts expire Wednesday and is seeking higher rates that the tribes pay for gaming exclusivity. He also believes without a new agreement, Class III tribal gaming will become illegal on Wednesday.

The tribes disagree, saying the 15-year-old compacts automatically renew and their gaming operations will continue in a normal fashion on Wednesday.

Last year, tribes paid the state $150 million in exclusivity fees to operate Class III gaming, which includes slot machines, roulette and craps. The Class III rates range from 4% to 10%.

The lawsuit also seeks a declaration that the governor or his agents can’t interfere with the tribes’ gaming operations.

Stitt has said the current situation poses uncertainty for casino vendors, patrons and employees.

“The governor’s actions manifest an intent to unsettle and destabilize the tribes’ federal rights to conduct gaming under their automatically renewing compact in order to force the tribes to negotiate a brand new compact with him,” according to the lawsuit. “That conduct causes immediate injury to the tribes’ rights because it requires the tribes either to tolerate actions that deny the existence of their federal rights or to give up those rights entirely.”

The suit said that Stitt’s remarks about the legality of Class III gaming after Wednesday “have had the intended effect of manufacturing public uncertainty over the lawfulness of the tribes’ conduct of gaming under their renewing compacts.”

Choctaw Nation Chief Gary Batton said the uncertainty created by the governor has been seen as a threat to tribal employees and business partners.

“We see this legal action as the most viable option to restore the clarity and stability the tribes and Oklahoma both deserve by obtaining a resolution that our compact does automatically renew,” Batton said in a prepared statement.

Stitt said he was disappointed that a number of Oklahoma tribes, led by the Chickasaw, Cherokee and Choctaw nations, did not accept the state’s offer on Oct. 28 for a three-member arbitration panel to resolve the dispute outside court.

“This was a capstone action to their numerous refusals to meet with the state and begin negotiations on the Model Gaming Compact to ensure a win-win for all parties by the end of this year,” Stitt said in a prepared statement. “I was elected to represent all 4 million Oklahomans. I will continue to be laser focused on an outcome that achieves a fair deal and is in the best interest of the state and its citizens.”

Chickasaw Nation Gov. Bill Anoatubby said tribal leaders have a duty to protect their sovereign rights and the interests of tribal citizens.

“While we prefer negotiation to litigation, the federal court is now the only reasonable alternative to bring legal certainty to this issue,” Anoatubby said.

Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. said the governor’s actions have left tribes with “little choice but to ask a federal judge to confirm the compact’s automatic renewal.”

The suit was filed by Robert H. Henry, a former judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit and former Oklahoma attorney general.

Meanwhile, two tribes, the Kialegee Tribal Town and the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians, entered an eight-month compact extension with the state, according to Stitt’s office.

Neither tribe currently operates a gaming facility.

“The State of Oklahoma offered an extension, with no strings attached, to all tribes that operate casinos in the state, and my door continues to be open for more tribes to join who are worried about impending uncertainty,” Stitt said in his prepared comments.

Tribal gaming 101: What you need to know about tribal gaming in Oklahoma.

Tribal gaming 101: What you need to know about Oklahoma tribal gaming

Tulsa World stories of the decade

How much can happen in a decade?

A lot.

For the first time in Oklahoma history, voters elected a woman to lead the state. There was a record snowstorm, flooding, earthquakes and devastating tornadoes.

High-profile law enforcement shootings led to calls for institutional reform and an examination of whether race factored into policing.

A professional basketball team the state grew to love unexpectedly reached the NBA Finals. On the gridiron, Oklahoma football produced two Heisman Trophy winners with unique backstories.

The state lost a billionaire benefactor deeply enamored with orange and black. A tragic plane crash and homecoming parade wreck shook Oklahoma State University. A gut-wrenching murder in a quiet Broken Arrow neighborhood tested the resolve of a community.

Teachers who demanded fair wages and support left their classrooms to fight for education in Oklahoma. And a city wanting to come to grips with its difficult past vowed to unearth truths by exploring cemeteries where secrets might be kept.

Here is a look back at a few of the more memorable stories in Oklahoma over the past 10 years. Check out an online photo gallery for the complete list of Tulsa World stories that stood out during the decade at tulsaworld.com.

Tulsa’s minor league team gets major league upgrade

For nearly 30 years, the Tulsa Drillers played its home games on the corner of 15th Street and Yale Avenue.

During that time, Tulsa became a stop for several future Major League Baseball players like Sammy Sosa, Ivan Rodriguez and Matt Holliday and provided summer entertainment for baseball fans and families throughout the area.

In its final days, it was clear — thanks to aging — that the team would need a new home.

ONEOK Field, a $39.2 million ballpark in the heart of the Greenwood District, opened in the spring of 2010, at 201 N. Elgin Avenue.

Not only did the stadium function as the new home for the Tulsa Drillers and FC Tulsa soccer, but it served as a harbinger for downtown growth and development.

“No question,” Drillers general manager Mike Melega told the Tulsa World then about the impact of the ONEOK Field. “The new stadium has given us more of a boost than we thought it would.”

Fallin elected state’s first female governor

Saying she was “a small-town girl from Tecumseh,” Mary Fallin, a two-term Republican congresswoman, defeated Democratic Lt. Gov. Jari Askins in 2010 to become Oklahoma’s first female governor.

“I stand before you today humbled by the deep honor and privilege to serve as your governor of the state of Oklahoma,” Fallin said during her inauguration in Oklahoma City in January 2011.

Public trust tested during TPD corruption case

One of the worst corruption scandals in modern Tulsa Police Department history concluded with 11 police officers being accused of criminal behavior, with four eventually being sentenced to the Oklahoma Department of Corrections.

The city of Tulsa ended up paying nearly $900,000 in legal settlements as a result and 41 people were released from incarceration or had their cases modified due to civil rights violations or other issues with their cases.

U.S. District Judge Bruce Black said the outcome would be “a stain that will live for a generation or more on the Tulsa Police Department.”

The federal probe was costly to the Police Department at the time, Police Chief Chuck Jordan said.

“It was a rough time for our police department,” Jordan told the World five years after the case concluded. “For all the six or seven officers who got in trouble, there were hundreds more out there who wouldn’t even think of doing something like that. And they got painted with that same broad brush, unfortunately.”

Easter holiday shootings shake Tulsa

Over two terrifying days in early April 2012, Alvin Lee Watts and Jacob Carl England — both white men — drove around north Tulsa with the intention of shooting the city’s black residents. Three people were killed and two others injured.

The targeted acts of racial violence stoked fear among residents and caused great concern for the Tulsa Police Department, which frantically sought leads to apprehend the suspects as the cause gained national attention. The Rev. Jesse Jackson — the civil rights leader — even made an appearance in Tulsa to meet with area ministers and call for a federal investigation.

“At this point, fear had set in, and everyone is asking me what they should do,” former Tulsa City Councilor Jack Henderson said at the time. Henderson also told residents then to stay indoors as a precaution until the shooters were caught.

Watts and England were eventually captured following a 17-hour manhunt and later pleaded guilty to three counts of first-degree murder, two counts of shooting with intent to kill and five counts of malicious intimidation or harassment on account of race, color, ancestry or national origin. They both received no-parole life prison terms in 2013.

“A lot of people were looking at Tulsa at that moment and expecting to see a city divided,” then-Mayor Dewey Bartlett said months after the men were arrested. “What they saw was something very different.”

Crutcher shooting places TPD, city under scrutiny

On Sept. 17, 2016, 40-year-old Terence Crutcher was fatally shot by Tulsa Police Officer Betty Shelby during an encounter near 36th Street North and Lewis Avenue after his SUV stalled in the street.

The shooting drew international attention and sparked renewed calls for police reform.

Tiffany Crutcher, Terence Crutcher’s twin sister, said she wanted to seek justice for her brother and other people affected in similar ways.

“I’m going to make sure that I don’t rest until we get reforms for this police department in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and we change the culture of this corrupt police department,” Tiffany Crutcher said. “And I believe all the officers involved, they’re going to be held accountable because this family right here, we believe in a higher power.”

Shelby was later charged in the incident before a Tulsa County jury acquitted her of first-degree manslaughter in May 2017.

“I had to make a decision, and I’m going to live with that decision for my entire life,” said Tulsa County District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler after Shelby was acquitted. “I had to charge somebody who is a member of the law enforcement community, and I knew what could be the consequences for that.”

Stocks close out best year since 2013; S&P 500 soars 28.9%

Wall Street closed the books Tuesday on a blockbuster 2019 for stock investors, with the broader market delivering its best returns in six years.

The S&P 500 finished with a gain of 28.9% for the year, its best annual performance since 2013, while the Dow Jones Industrial Average gained 22.3%, led by Apple.

Technology stocks led the way higher, vaulting 48%. That helped power the Nasdaq composite to a 35.3% gain for the year.

Along the way, the three major indexes set more record highs than in 2018 and kept the longest bull market for stocks going.

“We had a remarkable year of returns in the stock market,” said Keith Buchanan, portfolio manager at Globalt Investments. “Things are much different going into 2020 than they were going into 2019.”

Wall Street’s record-shattering ride in 2019 was not without its bumps.

The market got off to a roaring start in January after Federal Reserve Chairman Jay Powell said the central bank would be “patient” with its interest rate policy following four increases in 2018. That encouraged investors who had been worried the Fed would continue hiking rates. Those concerns helped fuel a sell-off in the final quarter of 2018 that knocked the S&P 500 nearly 20% lower by December of that year.

January’s rally helped set the tone for a year in which the market responded to every downturn with a more sustained upswing. Along the way, stocks kept setting records — 35 of them for the S&P 500 index, 22 for the Dow and 31 for the Nasdaq.

“You fast-forward 12 months and now we’re going into 2020 and the sentiment seems like it’s fairly the opposite,” Buchanan said. “There are fairly rosy expectations and there’s not a consensus that a recession is coming in a very near term.”

By the end of the year, the Fed had completely reversed course and cut rates three times in what Powell called a preemptive move against any impact a sluggish global economy and the U.S.-China trade war might have on U.S. economic growth.

The market also overcame a late-summer slump caused by fears that the U.S. economy could be headed for a recession. Those concerns eased as investors drew encouragement from surprisingly good third-quarter corporate earnings and data showing the economy was not slowing as much as economists had feared.

A truce in the 17-month U.S.-China trade war helped keep investors in a buying mood through the end of the year. Washington and Beijing announced in December they reached an agreement over a “Phase 1” trade deal that calls for the U.S. to reduce tariffs and China to buy larger quantities of U.S. farm products.

On Tuesday, President Donald Trump tweeted that he will sign the initial trade deal with China at the White House next month. He also said he plans to travel to Beijing at a later date to open talks on other sticking points in the U.S.-China trade relationship that remain to be worked out, including Chinese practices the U.S. complains unfairly favor its own companies.

A last-minute burst of buying reversed an early dip the major indexes Tuesday. Stocks ended the day broadly higher, led by gains in technology, health care and financial companies. Industrial stocks and household goods makers lagged the most. Bond prices fell, sending yields higher. Gold rose and crude oil fell.

The S&P 500 rose 9.49 points, or 0.3%, to 3,230.78. The Dow gained 76.30 points, or 0.3%, to 28,538.44. The Nasdaq climbed 26.61 points, or 0.3%, to 8,972.60.

Smaller company stocks fared better than the rest of the market. The Russell 2000 index picked up 4.32 points, or 0.3%, to 1,668.47. The index ended the year with a gain of 23.7%.

Trading volume was lighter than usual ahead of the New Year’s Day holiday. U.S. markets will be closed Wednesday and reopen on Thursday.

Bond prices fell. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note rose to 1.92% from 1.89% late Thursday.

In a year when most of the 11 sectors in the S&P 500 finished with gain of more than 20%, technology stocks led the way higher.

“Technology performed well,” said J.J. Kinahan, chief strategist with TD Ameritrade. “There was a huge fear going into the year that technology was going to suffer considerably because of tariffs, yet at the end of the year Apple is the leading stock in the Dow.”

Financial sector stocks, especially big banks, also posted strong gains in 2019, despite a sharp pullback in interest rates.

The sector ended with a 29.2% gain for the year, while JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America and Citigroup climbed over 40%.

Benchmark U.S. crude oil lost 62 cents to settle at $61.06 per barrel. Brent crude, the international standard, gave up 67 cents to close at $66 per barrel.

In other commodities trading, wholesale gasoline fell 3 cents to $1.70 per gallon. Heating oil slipped a penny to $2.03 per gallon. Natural gas was little changed at $2.19 per 1,000 cubic feet.

The price of gold rose $5 to $1,519.50 per ounce. Silver fell 8 cents to $17.83 per ounce. Copper dropped 3 cents to $2.79 per pound.

The dollar fell to 108.64 Japanese yen from 108.83 yen on Monday. The euro strengthened to $1.1217 from $1.1202.

European markets closed mostly lower. In Asia, Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index lost 0.5%.