Oklahoma’s Joint Committee Rejects Two Tribal Compacts Over Casino Proliferation Concerns

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Gov. Kevin Stitt’s request made on 25 October 2023 to approve two gaming compacts with two indigenous nations have been rejected by The Joint Committee on State Tribal Relations as the committee considers that these deals may lead to the proliferation of gaming facilities in Oklahoma County.

Claiming Increased State Benefit:

Trevor Pemberton, the governor’s general counsel, reportedly told the 10 members of the committee that the deals closed by governor Stitt and the United Keetoowah Band and the Kialegee Tribal Town in 2020 would generate an increased level of tax revenues for Oklahoma. Pamberton also said that the state should allow for different types of gaming to those included in the model compact scheme to benefit from the process. He said: “It would be, certainly on a financial basis, a great win for the state of Oklahoma for these agreements to move forward,” as The Oklahoman reports.

Federally Recognized Compacts:

In line with this statement, Gov. Stitt reportedly called the compacts a good deal and questioned the lawmakers’ stance on the deal. He reportedly said: “I don’t understand, why these guys can’t game and the other guys can. They are federally recognized. I don’t think most Oklahomans know the difference or understand why wouldn’t we allow this tribe to game if 20 other tribes are able to game in the state of Oklahoma. That’s what’s a head-scratcher to me.”

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However, the committee questioned the deals potentially allowing tribal casinos within the state’s most populous county even if they received approval from federal regulators. House Majority Floor Leader Jon Echols, reportedly said: “I have extreme concerns with carte-blanche expansion into Oklahoma County, and I fear that is what this would create.”

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Supreme Court Ceded the Case to the Committee:

The debate also included a letter of disapproval received by the committee from Attorney General Gentner Drummond and the Pemberton’s denial of the Drummond’s allegations that the Oklahoma Supreme Court had already rejected the deals. As The Oklahoman reports, Pemberton claimed that the deals could become valid had the committee signed them off. He reportedly said: “What [the Supreme Court] did say is the compacts contain different terms than the model gaming compact, and therefore they must be submitted to the joint committee.”

Compacts Rejected by Committee:

But the 10 lawmakers of the Joint Committee on State Tribal Relations voted to reject the deals. As reported, Senate Majority Floor Leader Greg McCourtney, R-Ada, said: “I believe there are significant fatal flaws in the construction of this compact in the lands that are granted. My opinion will not change over time.”

The hearing before the committee leads the long-time process a step closer to an end. In 2020, the governor signed separate agreements with the United Keetoowah Band and Kialegee Tribal Town, as well as gaming compacts with the Comanche Nation and Otoe-Missouria Tribe. The deals were technically approved by the federal law and therefore subjected to lawsuits of several other tribes to remain pending before the state courts for three years. As The Oklahoman reports, the latest move by the committee contributes to the efforts of Attorney General Drummond to controvert these compacts.

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