OKLAHOMA CITY — Gov. Kevin Stitt on Thursday accused tribes of refusing to communicate with him over possible changes to their gaming compacts.
Stitt told reporters at a Capitol press conference that his representatives were kicked out of an Oct. 28 meeting in Shawnee with tribes without being able to present his plan.
Stitt was represented in Shawnee by members of his staff and Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter.
“They would not listen to our plan,” he said.
But the governor declined to discuss the specifics of his plan, other than to say it included increases to the rates that tribes pay to the state and the addition of sports betting.
“My goal is to get a good deal for Oklahoma and the casino industry,” Stitt said.
He said he was taking his position directly to the people and asking Oklahomans to stand with him. He said no industry should get preferential treatment and no contract renews in perpetuity.
The tribes and Stitt are at an impasse on gaming compacts, which require the tribes to pay fees to the state for gaming exclusivity rights.
For fiscal year 2018, Oklahoma collected nearly $139 million in tribal gaming exclusivity fees, according to a report from the state’s Office of Management and Enterprise Services. That was a 3.48% increase over fiscal year 2017.
The bulk of the money goes to education.
The rates range from 4% to 10%. At the end of fiscal year 2018, some 31 tribes were offering 131 facilities for Class III gaming under the compacts.
Stitt believes the compacts expire Jan. 1, 2020, while the tribes believe they automatically renew.
Stitt said the issue creates uncertainty, but tribes are continuing to expand operations, despite the impasse.
“This may end up in court,” Stitt said. “I certainly don’t want it to end up in court. I want to sit down and negotiate.”
Stitt said the federal government and state have options, should the impasse continue past Jan. 1, but he would not elaborate.
“On Jan. 1, 2020, you can’t operate Class III gaming, but that is going to be a federal decision,” Stitt said. “There are other things the state can do.”
Tribes have declined the state’s offer to go to arbitration over the renewal issue.
Matthew Morgan, chairman of the Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association, said the tribes plan to continue operations through Jan. 1.
“On behalf of the Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association, I think we were disheartened to hear Gov. Stitt speaking the way he did about our industry,” Morgan said.
Morgan said the tribes at the Oct. 28 meeting were asking for the state to identify whether there was a dispute and to offer a remedy to get around the disagreement on renewal.
“Tribal leadership did not want to hear about trying to create a new compact out of whole cloth,” Morgan said. “And that is the part where we failed to hear Attorney General Hunter out on.”
Morgan said the governor has mischaracterized the gaming compact discussions. Tribal leaders have been very statesmen-like, he said.
“We are well within the norms of paying in exclusivity fees with the rest of the country,” Morgan said. He said tribes have lived up to their side of the bargain.
Morgan was asked why the tribes shouldn’t have to pay higher fees.
“We have an established legal agreement,” he said. “How would you like it if somebody came to you and said we had an agreement, but now I am going to change the terms of your contract because I feel like I should get a better deal?”
Morgan said revenue to the state from the compacts has exceeded projections.
Hunter did not attend Stitt’s news conference but issued a statement.
“I support Gov. Stitt’s appeal today and encourage our tribal partners to come back to the table to begin negotiations,” Hunter said. “We are committed to a positive outcome that is mutually beneficial to both the state and the tribes.”