OKLAHOMA CITY — Despite pushback from Oklahoma tribes, Gov. Kevin Stitt appears resolute in his desire to renegotiate gaming compacts and get a better deal for the state.
Leaders of 29 American Indian tribes notified Stitt in writing last month that they believe they are not obligated to renegotiate, but they will listen if he has a proposal.
Stitt believes the compacts expire Jan. 1, 2020, while the tribes believe they automatically renew.
The tribes pay the state “exclusivity” fees ranging from 4% to 10%.
In 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 2017.
Stitt told the Tulsa World this week that he has not talked to lawmakers about possibly expanding gaming to include sports betting or other games in exchange for additional or higher rates. But everything is on the table.
Allowing commercial gaming in Oklahoma such as what is permitted in Nevada, said Stitt, would be a last resort.
“That wouldn’t be what I wanted in the least bit,” he said.
Stitt said he is anxious to sit down with tribes and come to a fair agreement about the fees. What a fee was worth 15 years ago is something different now, he said.
Tribal gaming has become the eighth-largest industry in the state, Stitt said, and tribes have been given the exclusive right to operate that business.
“I don’t begrudge them one minute,” Stitt said. “It all comes down to what is the fee to operate a monopoly in our state in gaming.”
Matthew Morgan, chairman of the Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association, said Stitt has not offered tribes anything of value.
Morgan said because the market is more mature and competitive than it was in 2004 when the rates were established, it could be argued that rates should decrease. He said the tribes took the risk and made the investments.
“What the state offered was substantial exclusivity that was worth an amount in 2004,” Morgan said. “It is not worth as much in 2019 as it was in 2004.”
Stephen Greetham is general counsel for the Chickasaw Nation.
In a July letter to tribes, Stitt indicated he wanted to renegotiate the entire compact, not just the fees, Greetham said.
“He has told tribes he wants to throw the baby out with the bathwater and no one will join him at the table for that conversation so long as he sticks with that position,” Greetham said. “He has categorically said let’s erase everything and start from scratch.”
Stitt said he has met with about 14 tribes to discuss renegotiating the compacts.
“I wouldn’t say it has been overly positive, but very respectful,” Stitt said. “The dialogue has been great. They understand my position. They obviously are advocating for their own position that these compacts auto renew.”
Stitt said he has talked with legal counsel about the issue, adding that “no contracts renew in perpetuity.”
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