Two new gaming compacts take effect, but for how long?

Randy Ellis The Oklahoman
Gov. Kevin Stitt delivers his State of the State Address on Monday, Feb. 3, in the chambers of the Oklahoma House of Representatives in Oklahoma City. Chris Landsberger/The Oklahoman file

OKLAHOMA CITY — Gov. Kevin Stitt’s new gaming compacts with the Comanche Nation and Otoe-Missouria Tribe officially took effect Monday, but whether they will be allowed to remain in effect is an issue currently pending before the Oklahoma Supreme Court.

The U.S. Department of the Interior published the two gaming compacts in the Federal Register on Monday, announcing they would take effect immediately.

That means the two tribes will immediately begin paying the state a flat 4.5% revenue sharing rate on all Class III casino games rather than the blended rates they had been paying. The blended rates were based on rates that ranged from 4 to 10% depending on the types of games and amount of revenue generated. The tribes have said they expect the change to save each of them hundreds of thousands of dollars a year, with a corresponding loss in revenue to the state.

Arguably, implementation of the new compacts also could allow the two tribes to offer sports betting and house-banked card and table games, as well as engage in certain other activities that had been prohibited.

However, all those activities, as well as the legality of the entire compacts, are currently being challenged in a state Supreme Court action filed by Senate President Pro Tem Greg Treat and House Speaker Charles McCall.

A hearing on the matter before a state Supreme Court referee was scheduled for 10:30 a.m. Wednesday.

John Shotton, chairman of the Otoe-Missouria Tribe, indicated Monday that his tribe plans to wait and see how the litigation plays out before forging ahead with sports betting and other contested activities.

Court filing

In a Supreme Court filing last week, Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter’s office once again sided with legislative leaders against Gov. Stitt and the two tribal compacts, reiterating legal positions Hunter made public earlier through an attorney general’s opinion.

“Under the Oklahoma Constitution, the governor cannot amend the public policy of the State by unilaterally entering into agreements that authorize violations of state law,” the attorney general’s office argued.

Hunter contends that sports betting, house-banked card and table games, and some of the other activities the governor sought to authorize through the compacts are illegal under Oklahoma law.

The governor’s legal team countered by accusing legislative leaders of engaging in a “blatant attempt to wrest from the governor his constitutional, statutory, and judicially recognized duty and authority to negotiate and enter into gaming compacts with Oklahoma’s tribes.”

Legislative leaders had accused the governor of exceeding his authority and attempting a “universal power grab” by purportedly authorizing the two tribes to engage in forms of gaming that the Legislature had not made legal.

However, the governor’s attorneys argued that “the only ‘unilateral power grab’ here .. is the unashamed — and unsupported — attempt by key legislators to grab power and control from the executive branch.”

They also argued that it is up to federal courts, rather than state courts, to determine what types of gambling can be permitted under tribal gaming compacts.

The attorney general’s office disputed that argument, noting that when Oklahoma City federal judge Timothy DeGiusti was previously presented with that same argument, he ruled that it was an issue for state courts to decide.