Oklahoma’s top attorney says the governor doesn’t possess the power to enter the state into binding agreements with Native American tribes that authorize gaming activity prohibited by state law.
House and Senate leadership requested the opinion from Attorney General Mike Hunter following Gov. Kevin Stitt’s compacts April 21 with the Otoe-Missouria Tribe and the Comanche Nation. Each compact would permit sports betting in some of their casinos, among other matters addressed.
In addition to Tuesday’s written opinion, Hunter also sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of the Interior David Berhardt requesting that Berhardt reject the agreements because they aren’t authorized by the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.
Hunter wrote that how a deal is consummated is one of state’s rights, not federal. Sports books aren’t allowed under Oklahoma law.
“Because the Governor lacks authority to ‘enter into’ the agreements he has sent to you, those agreements fail to meet the requirements of IGRA to constitute a valid gaming compact under federal law,” Hunter told Berhardt. “How a state enters into a gaming compact with a tribe, including whether the Governor may do so unilaterally in contravention of state statute, is a core concern of the state’s constitutional structure and is therefore a matter of state law.”
Stitt’s office in a statement called the compacts legal pursuant to federal law.
“These compacts are unquestionably legal and deliver unprecedented guarantees of clarity, stability, and transparency for all Sovereign parties, and for the benefit of all 4 million Oklahomans,” Baylee Lakey, communications director, wrote. “Governor Stitt stands with the State’s tribal partners, the Comanche Nation and Otoe-Missouria Tribe, who negotiated in good faith new, modernized gaming compacts pursuant to federal law.”
The Otoe-Missouria Tribe and the Comanche Nation released a joint statement saying the sports betting disagreement between Stitt and Hunter “is not our concern” and doesn’t affect the deals.
“Our compacts are legal and were negotiated in good faith. The political fight between the governor and the attorney general over sports betting is not our concern and does not impact the legality of the compacts,” the two tribes stated.
A three-page message April 22 from Senate President Pro Tem Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma City, and House Speaker Charles McCall, R-Atoka, lectured the first-term governor on separation of powers, the Oklahoma Constitution and the state’s Indian gaming statutes.
“While we appreciate you making us aware of your intention to sign these documents just moments before your public announcement, had you consulted us earlier we could have provided this information to you earlier,” the lawmakers wrote.
Hunter said in a statement Tuesday that Oklahoma deeply values its relationship with the tribal nations.
He said approval of the compacts Stitt signed could harm those relationships, as well as generate confusion and uncertainty about appropriate state-tribal relations.
“Their importance demands the respect of knowing that, when state officials make promises to Indian tribes, those officials have the authority to bind the State to such agreements,” Hunter said. “To do otherwise undermines the credibility and honor of the State when engaging in these sensitive inter-sovereign relations.”
Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association Chair Matthew Morgan applauded Hunter’s opinion and letter.
“As the Attorney General states and we have argued for some time, Governor Stitt does not have the authority to bind Oklahoma to his empty promises,” Morgan wrote in a statement. “Oklahoma and the Tribes deserve better than the carelessness Governor Stitt has brought to the table, and the Attorney General’s analysis encourages us that we will be able to reestablish the sort of Tribal-State engagement that conforms to the law and serves all of us well.”
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