After it was announced earlier this week that two tribes had reached an agreement with the state on new gaming compacts, a judge dismissed the two tribes Friday from a federal lawsuit filed against Gov. Kevin Stitt’s office.
The dismissal came over the objections of the remaining tribes in the lawsuit, who sought more information about the proposed settlements and compacts or a declaration regarding the legality of the new compacts.
U.S. District Judge Timothy DeGiusti, in an order, wrote that he was approving the dismissal request but would honor a request from the remaining tribes that he wasn’t ruling on the legality of the agreements.
“Upon consideration, the Court finds that this alternative request fully satisfies” the remaining tribes’ concerns, DeGiusti wrote.
“A dismissal with prejudice of the movants’ respective claims and counterclaims against each other — without any review or approval of the settlement agreements … and without any judicial action on the merits of the underlying claims — will have no legal effect on the issues present for decision in this case,” DeGiusti continued.
“This lawsuit mainly concerns the continued existence or effectiveness of prior tribal gaming compacts, and any new compacts that may have been made will not affect the Court’s determination,” the judge wrote.
The Cherokee Nation, Muscogee (Creek) Nation and seven other tribes suing the state asked DeGiusti to require Stitt and the Comanche and Otoe-Missouria tribal governments to release the terms of their proposed settlement with Stitt.
The Comanche and Otoe-Missouria tribal governments announced Tuesday that they had signed new gaming compacts with the state as part of an agreement to settle their portion of the lawsuit.
But the ink was barely dry on the compacts when Attorney General Mike Hunter announced later the same day that the agreements were not authorized by the state’s Tribal Gaming Act.
Stitt is seeking increased exclusivity fees from the state’s American Indian tribes in renegotiated compacts. He contends that the existing compacts expired Jan. 1 and that the continued operation of Class III games, which include many slot machines, roulette and craps, without new compacts is now illegal.
The tribes currently pay the state fees for the exclusive right to operate Class III gaming in Oklahoma. The fees range from 4% to 10% of their revenues on those games and brought the state nearly $150 million last year.
The tribes involved in the lawsuit, filed in Oklahoma City federal court, contend that the compacts automatically renewed. The lawsuit, filed Dec. 31 , seeks a determination on who is right.
DeGiusti has ordered the parties to participate in mediation to try to settle the case.
The new compacts approved by Stitt and the two tribes actually reduce the percentage of gambling revenue to be submitted to the state for exclusivity rights, but they ostensibly authorize the Comanche and Otoe-Missouria tribes to begin offering sports betting and banked table games such as true blackjack, activities that are not occurring in Oklahoma at this time. Those allowances are points of contention.
Through an attorney representing the state, Stitt has defended the legality of the compacts.
The Cherokee Nation and other tribes weighing in on the proposed settlements said that while Stitt has released to the public copies of the two new compacts, the documents or settlement agreements were not provided to the court. The nine tribes said they obtained copies of the compacts indirectly from public sources.
The Cherokee Nation and other tribes also point out that a judge ordered a gag order on the parties while the case is in mediation.
“These terms establish a process that is to precede any public announcement that, if it had been followed, would have afforded the Court and the Nations an opportunity to evaluate the settlement in an orderly manner,” the filing states.
The nine other tribes claim it is impossible for them to evaluate the settlement terms “and assess the extent to which the settlements may prejudice their interests.”
The filing includes a letter from House Speaker Charles McCall, R-Atoka, and Senate President Pro Tem Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma City, in which the pair agree with Hunter that the new compacts were “unauthorized by law and void without action by the Oklahoma Legislature.”
The filing also asked the judge to not permit the new compacts to be submitted to the U.S. Department of the Interior.
“Any submittal at this time would be untimely, inappropriate and a waste of resources,” the nine tribes state.
Should the court disagree with the need to provide the settlement terms, the nine tribes asked the judge to “make clear in its order that the settlement has not been reviewed or approved by this court, either to determine its legality or for any other purpose, and further provide that…(Stitt and the two tribes) shall not make any representation to the contrary in any proceeding, whether administrative, judicial, or legislative, including any submittal to the Department of Interior.”