OKLAHOMA CITY — Legislative leaders expressed varying opinions Wednesday about Gov. Kevin Stitt’s dispute with the state’s American Indian tribes over gaming compacts.

Those leaders have been reluctant to express opinions but were asked about the situation during a legislative panel sponsored by the State Chamber of Oklahoma.

Stitt and the tribes are at an impasse over their gaming compacts, which generate millions of dollars in exclusivity fees for the state each year.

Stitt believes that the compacts expire Jan. 1 and wants the tribes to pay higher rates. The tribes believe that the compacts renew automatically.

The tribes pay between 4 percent and 10 percent in fees to the state to operate Class III gaming, which includes slot machines, craps and roulette.

While Stitt has said Class III gaming will be illegal after Jan. 1 without a new compact, the tribes say they plan to continue operating as usual.

“My ultimate desire would be that it go to arbitration,” said Senate President Pro Tem Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma City.

He said arbitration is the fairest way to handle the issue.

The tribes have already rejected an offer from the state to go to arbitration over the renewal issue.

Treat said the Legislature is not involved in the negotiations between Stitt and the tribes.

“We don’t have any say in the negotiations on the compacts, so I am watching like all of you are,” Treat said.

House Minority Leader Emily Virgin said she thinks Stitt is getting bad legal advice concerning the compacts.

She said she’s very concerned about the tone Stitt has taken in negotiations and that he is “not respecting our tribal partners, because they do such an incredible amount of work in Oklahoma and take care of millions of people in our state.”

Legislative leaders should be concerned about the issue because the state gets about $150 million from the compacts annually, she said.

“I do think there was a point in time where our tribal partners were willing to sit down and talk about the rates and things like sports book, but I fear that time has passed,” Virgin said.

House Speaker Charles McCall, R-Atoka, said the issue presents a win-win opportunity for all parties.

“I think there is still time to do that,” he said.

McCall said he has full faith that the tribal leaders and Stitt will get a deal put together.

Senate Minority Leader Kay Floyd, D-Oklahoma City, said the tribes are among the largest employers in the state and have enormous impact.

“I am deeply concerned that if this issue is resolved with litigation that it is going to make it very difficult for the tribes and the state to work together moving forward,” Floyd said.

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Barbara Hoberock



Twitter: @bhoberock

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