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Chickasaw Nation tells state it can't audit tribe's gaming finances but can look at prior audits and records

OKLAHOMA CITY — The Chickasaw Nation has told the state of Oklahoma that the state cannot audit its gaming operations but can look at prior external audits and records.

The letter, sent Thursday, was in response to a Dec. 18 letter the state sent to all of the tribes with casinos in the state.

In the Dec. 18 letter to the Chickasaw Nation, the state said it was preparing to “conduct an investigation of revenue of the Chickasaw Nation’s Class III gaming activity. The objective of the investigation is to determine if the state has received all fees owed from the conduct of covered games” pursuant to the compact.

The action comes in the midst of an impasse between Gov. Kevin Stitt and the state’s gaming tribes.

Stitt believes that the compacts expire this Wednesday. He says Class III gaming in the state will be illegal after that time without a new agreement. In hoping to negotiate new compacts, he is seeking higher fees from the tribes, which now pay the state between 4% and 10% to operate Class III gaming, which includes slot machines, roulette and craps.

Last fiscal year, those exclusivity fees generated nearly $150 million for the state.

The tribes say the compacts automatically renew and that they will continue operating Class III games on Wednesday.

In its notification of its intent to audit, the state cited a portion of the compact for that authority. But D. Scott Colbert, Chickasaw Nation gaming commissioner, said that section of the compact does not authorize the state to perform financial audits.

It does give the state the authority to monitor the conduct of covered games to ensure that they are operated in compliance with the compact, he said.

The tribe uses a third-party accountant to do a financial audit each year, Colbert noted.

He wrote that the state is entitled to see the audit and can meet with the auditors to discuss work papers or other matters within certain limitations.

Saying the audit had already been provided to the state, he included it again with his letter.

Colbert said he would be glad to meet with state officials on Thursday in Ada, where the Chickasaw Nation has its headquarters.

Matthew Morgan, an administrator with the Chickasaw Nation who served two terms as the tribe’s gaming commissioner and also serves as chairman of the Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association, affirmed that the state has the right to monitor but not to audit.

“If they want to look at financial numbers, the way to do that is looking at the external financial audit required to be sent to them,” Morgan said.

He said Colbert’s letter attempts to educate the state about past practices.

“Commissioner Colbert wanted to make sure that everybody understood their swim lanes on how the process works,” Morgan said.

Donelle Harder, a Stitt spokeswoman, said the state is responsible for monitoring the conduct of covered games, including reviewing the audit and underlying documents.

“The state looks forward to initiating the process at the January 2 meeting,” she said.

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


Chasing change: Tulsa attorney's 'money-hunting' hobby has raised more than $1,500 for church missions

Not that he won’t take your penny if offered, but Hap Fry Jr. has at least one thought he’s happy to pass along for free.

“Think about it — how much you could collect if everybody picked up (all the dropped change on the ground),” he said.

“Then if they commit all that found money to whatever mission they want to give it to. If everybody did that, think what it could do.”

Fry, a longtime Tulsa attorney, first began thinking that way some two decades ago.

And somewhere along the way, what started as a simple idea grew into a full-blown obsession.

“Once you get going, it’s hard to stop. You want to see what you might find next,” said Fry, who almost every night in 2019 made rounds of local fast-food restaurant drive-thrus and toll plazas, where he picked up any money that had been dropped.

He collects change off the ground throughout the year; then every New Year’s, he writes a check in that amount to his church, First United Methodist, for its mission fund.

This year, his efforts brought in $500.69.

A 78-year-old widower who still practices family law at his firm Fry & Elder, Fry said he’s really gotten serious about “money hunting,” as he calls it, in the last five years.

Together with previous efforts, he has donated a total of $1,575.22 to his church.

“It’s fun,” he said. “I’m always competing against myself — trying to make more this year than I did last year.”

But with this year winding to a close, Fry says he plans to rein in the hobby somewhat.

It’s gotten to where he’s spending two or three hours a night at it, driving around looking for loose change, he said.

“It probably qualifies as an addiction. I have an addictive personality,” he said, chuckling.

The thrill of the hunt

At first sight of that familiar silver glint, caught in the beam of his flashlight during a recent outing, Fry almost shouted in delight.

“Bingo — found a quarter!” he said.

“They throw them and they roll, and there’s no telling where they’re gonna stop.”

Scouring the ground around a turnpike toll booth, Fry’s search quickly yielded more stray change.

“Wow!” he said. “That’s getting it. That’s getting it.”

It was the best stop of the night so far.

“It’s kind of like fishing. Some days, they just don’t bite. Some days it just starts off real slow and then picks up,” said Fry, who would go on to tally $3.85 over the two-hour outing. Anything over $3, he said, is a good night.

Fry began to invest more time in his hobby a few years ago after losing his wife, he said. He found himself needing some way to spend his suddenly emptier evenings.

However, the basic idea — the thrill of the hunt — goes back much further.

Fry, who also donates the proceeds from collecting stray golf balls, has enjoyed “finding stuff” since he was a boy.

His money hunting is not confined to his late-night rounds.

On his way to work in the morning, in his bow tie and sport coat, he’ll often check drive-thrus, if there’s no line of cars.

A McDonald’s drive-thru one morning recently netted him a quarter, a nickel and five pennies.

The Tulsa County Courthouse, where his legal work frequently takes him, is also a good place to look for money on the ground, he said.

Adding it up

Fry acknowledges he’s spending more on gas on his nightly rounds than he’s actually finding in change.

“I got a 2018 Subaru,” he said,” and I’ve got 47,000 miles on that silly car because I’ll drive 20 miles just to go money hunting.”

But he can afford the related expenses, he said. And the coins do add up.

Fry keeps immaculate records. Over 20 years — most of it in the last few — he’s found 19,127 pennies, 1,687 nickels, 4,772 dimes, 2,178 quarters, along with an assortment of bills.

It’s so much a part of his life, he’s almost always scanning the ground around him, even unconsciously.

Which, Fry admits, probably means it’s a good time to step back.

He said he will still pick up change he sees during the day. But he’s calling off the nightly outings.

Some life changes helped him make the decision.

The widower is dating again. His “lady friend” has been very understanding, he said, playing mahjong on her phone while he drives around.

“She understands my idiosyncrasies,” he said.

But out of respect for her patience, Fry plans to spend more of his evening time at home.

He hopes to inspire others to take up the money hunt mantle, though, and find a good cause to support with it.

“It’s money on the ground,” he said. “It’s money that needs to be picked up.”


Choctaw Nation, Governor's Office spar over renewal of hunting, fishing compact

While tribal leaders raised alarms Monday that the Choctaw Hunting and Fishing Compact with the state of Oklahoma would expire with the new year, the Governor’s Office and Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation said an agreement could still be at hand.

The tribe issued a revised statement late in the day, with expiration of the compact just one day away.

Historic compacts signed with the Cherokee Nation in 2015 and the Choctaw Nation in 2016 worked out a means to standardize wildlife laws across state and tribal lands and for the tribes to issue tribal compact hunting and fishing licenses directly to members at no charge to the individuals.

The tribes paid the Wildlife Department under an arrangement that still allowed the department to benefit from federal matching funds distributed to states based on the number of individual licenses sold. The 2016 compact called for the nation to purchase “a minimum of 50,000 licenses for its Oklahoma resident citizens.”

The Choctaw Nation on Monday said its proposed agreement, including federal funding tied to those purchases, amounted to a potential $4.87 million for the Wildlife Department.

A breakdown on those numbers and numbers related to the Cherokee Nation were not immediately available Monday.

The initial three-year agreement with the Cherokee Nation expired Dec. 31, 2018, and was given a one-year renewal, according to a Dec. 23 report in the Cherokee Phoenix. Cherokee Nation officials said they were awaiting word from the Governor’s Office at that time.

The initial three-year agreement signed by the Choctaw Nation, which took effect Jan. 1, 2017, expires Tuesday at midnight.

“The Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma has had positive talks about the hunting and fishing compact with the Oklahoma State Department of Wildlife Conservation, and we’d reached a verbal agreement on a proposal,” Gary Batton, chief of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, said in a statement issued at 4 p.m. Monday. “Until this morning after our media release, we had received no official response from state administration and needed to communicate to our tribal members, many of whom are avid hunters, how to obtain their 2020 state hunting and fishing license. We are currently reviewing the state’s offer to extend the hunting and fishing compact.”

In the initial release, Jack Austin Jr., assistant chief for the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma who led negotiations for the compact, stated in the release: “We are disappointed that negotiations have come to a standstill with state administration on the Hunting and Fishing Compact ... This program has been a mutually beneficial agreement, benefiting both tribal members and the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.”

The Choctaw Nation began discussions to renew the compact with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation in August. The compact guaranteed the purchase of tens of thousands of state licenses for tribal members. That purchase, combined with the connected federal funding, would be worth a projected $4.87 million to the Wildlife Department, according to the early morning news release.

When press reports surfaced, the Governor’s Office countered that the Choctaw announcement was premature.

“The Choctaw Nation’s statement is a false accusation and disappointing to see in light of the positive conversations between the governor’s office and the tribes involved in this particular hunting and fishing compact. We are in discussions of extending the compact prior to its Dec. 31 expiration,” spokeswoman Donelle Harder said via email to the Tulsa World late Monday morning.

Micah Holmes, spokesman for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, confirmed the state was working on the compacts.

“We are actively working and coordinating with the Governor’s Office, and we, hopefully, will hear something soon on the path moving forward,” he said Monday afternoon.

Meanwhile, the Choctaw Nation was updating its website’s hunting license portal, informing tribal members that they would need to purchase licenses and deciding what to do with pending hunting and fishing license requests from tribal members, according to Choctaw Nation spokesman Casey Davis.

The Wildlife Department receives no state funding. It is funded solely by hunting and fishing license sales with matching federal funds collected from excise taxes on hunting, fishing and marine sales.


With births down, U.S. had slowest growth rate in a century

ORLANDO, Fla. — The past year’s population growth rate in the United States was the slowest in a century due to declining births, increasing deaths and the slowdown of international migration, according to figures released Monday by the U.S. Census Bureau.

The U.S. grew from 2018 to 2019 by almost a half percent, or about 1.5 million people, with the population standing at 328 million this year, according to population estimates.

That’s the slowest growth rate in the U.S. since 1917 to 1918, when the nation was involved in World War I, said William Frey, a senior fellow at The Brookings Institution.

For the first time in decades, natural increase — the number of births minus the number of deaths — was less than 1 million in the U.S. due to an aging population of baby boomers, whose oldest members entered their 70s within the past several years. As the large Boomer population continues to age, this trend is going to continue.

“Some of these things are locked into place. With the aging of the population, as the baby boomers move into their 70s and 80s, there are going to be higher numbers of deaths,” Frey said. “That means proportionately fewer women of child bearing age, so even if they have children, it’s still going to be less.”

Four states had a natural decrease, where deaths outnumbered births: West Virginia, Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont.

For the first time this decade, Puerto Rico had a population increase. The island, battered by economic stagnation and Hurricane Maria in the past several years, increased by 340 people between 2018 and 2019, with people moving to the island offsetting natural decrease.

International migration to the U.S. decreased to 595,000 people from 2018 to 2019, dropping from as many as 1 million international migrants in 2016, according to the population estimates. Immigration restrictions by the Trump administration combined with a perception that the U.S. has fewer economic opportunities than it did before the recession a decade ago contributed to the decline, Frey said.

“Immigration is a wildcard in that it is something we can do something about,” Frey said. “Immigrants tend to be younger and have children, and they can make a population younger.”

Ten states had population declines in the past year. They included New York, which lost almost 77,000 people; Illinois, which lost almost 51,000 residents; West Virginia, which lost more than 12,000 people; Louisiana, which lost almost 11,000 residents; and Connecticut, which lost 6,200 people. Mississippi, Hawaii, New Jersey, Alaska and Vermont each lost less than 5,000 residents.

Regionally, the South saw the greatest population growth from 2018 to 2019, increasing 0.8% due to natural increase and people moving from others parts of the country. The Northeast had a population decrease for the first time this decade, declining 0.1% due primarily to people moving away.

Monday’s population estimates also offer a preview of which states may gain or lose congressional seats from next year’s apportionment process using figures from the 2020 Census. The process divvies up the 435 U.S. House seats among the 50 states based on population.

Several forecasts predict California, the nation’s most populous state with 39.5 million residents, losing a seat for the first time. Texas, the nation’s second most-populous state with 28.9 million residents, is expected to gain as many as three seats, the most of any state.

According to Frey’s projections on Monday, Florida stands to gain two seats, while Arizona, Colorado, Montana, North Carolina and Oregon each stand to gain a seat. Besides, California, other states that will likely lose a seat are Alabama, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and West Virginia.