The Lucky Star Casino in Hammon, Oklahoma, is one of five gaming properties owned and operated by the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes. Photo: Lucky Star Casino

Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribal Tribune: Battle brews over gaming compacts

Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt releases editorial on tribal gaming compacts
Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribal Tribune (CATT)

TULSA, Oklahoma -- On July 8, 2019 the Tulsa World published an editorial from Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt entailing Stitt’s views on tribal gaming compacts between Oklahoma tribes and the state. In Stitt’s editorial (read below), he implies he is in favor of an increase in exclusivity fees from the current six percent all the way up to 20 percent.

The current compacts are up for renewal January 1, 2020, however, based on the ‘Evergreen Clause’ written into current tribal gaming compacts, which states the compacts could continue as they are written without changing anything, altering the compacts would be difficult with out new negotiations between the Gov. Stitt and Oklahoma tribes on a government-to-government basis.

The Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1998 mandates that net revenues of tribal gaming be directed to tribes for government, economic development and the general welfare use for tribal citizens.

Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt’s statement as published in the Tulsa World:
“Fifteen years ago, the citizens of Oklahoma approved State Question 712, and the Oklahoma Legislature passed laws permitting the state to enter into gaming “compacts” with the federally recognized Indian tribes located in Oklahoma.

Within a few years, Oklahoma led the nation in the number of tribal gaming casinos and was near the top in terms of gaming revenue. By any measure, Oklahoma’s tribal gaming industry, and its economic impact on our state, have been a huge success and emerged as a big business. As a Cherokee citizen and governor of the great state of Oklahoma, I am proud of what this partnership has accomplished. Today, tribal gaming is the eighth-largest industry in Oklahoma. We are now the third-largest gaming market in the country, behind only Nevada and California, generating an estimated $4.5 billion in annual revenue for the tribes, and home to the world’s largest casino.

Moreover, in large part due to the success of the gaming partnership between the state and the tribes, the tribes have become the third-largest employer in the state, providing jobs to more than 54,000 Oklahomans.

The agreements between the state and the tribes giving them exclusivity to the gaming industry are, however, terminating as of Jan. 1, 2020, and it is imperative that we come to terms on new compacts prior to the end of the year.

Since 2004, tribes have paid $1.28 billion to the state of Oklahoma in exclusivity fees. Tribes set a record in fiscal year 2018, paying nearly $138.6 million to the state, an increase of 3.48 percent from the prior fiscal year. Source: Oklahoma Gaming Compliance Unit Annual Report, Fiscal Year 2018

The easiest thing to do is simply renew the existing compacts “as is,” rather than do the hard work of closely reviewing and negotiating new compacts that reflect the state of affairs today. I believe, however, that voters elected me to look at everything in state government with a fresh eye and, where necessary, make the difficult decisions that are in the best interest of all four million Oklahomans.

In this case, that means sitting down with our tribal partners to discuss how to bring these 15-year-old compacts to an agreement that reflects market conditions for the gaming industry seen around the nation today. My intent is that any new agreement protects the dynamic success of economic growth and development for our tribal partners, while also fairly building the state of Oklahoma to the benefit of every citizen.

For example, 15 years ago the tribal gaming industry in Oklahoma did not exist. To incentivize this industry from its infancy, the current agreement provides that, in exchange for “exclusive rights” to conduct gaming in Oklahoma, the tribes pay the state an “exclusivity fee” starting at four percent and topping at six percent of revenues received. This was reasonable and fair to help introduce the gaming industry in Oklahoma to the world in 2004. Today, Oklahoma’s fees are the lowest in the nation.

Today, most state-tribal compacts around the country provide for exclusivity fees to the state of 20 percent to 25 percent. In fact, in November 2018, voters in our neighboring state of Arkansas approved four new casinos in the state, two of which will be bid on by tribes from Oklahoma, according to media reports. In Arkansas, the fee will start at 13 percent and max out at 20 percent.

Exclusivity fees paid by tribes to the state of Oklahoma totaled nearly $138.6 million in fiscal year 2018. Source: Oklahoma Gaming Compliance Unit Annual Report, Fiscal Year 2018

As your governor, I am absolutely committed to reaching new agreements with our tribal partners that recognize their historic and significant economic contributions to Oklahoma and provide a framework for them to have even more continued economic growth in the years ahead.

I am equally committed to representing you in a manner that reflects the current fair-market contribution to the growth of the gaming industry and puts all parties in a position to achieve new heights of success for today’s citizens and future generations of Oklahomans.”

Several tribal leaders issued statements immediately after the release of Stitt’s editorial. Leader of the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribe, Gov. Reggie Wassana released the following statement, “The Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes have read the notice to the tribes for renegotiating the gaming compact. The initial intent of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988 (IGRA) was to support the development of tribal economies. Since the passing of State Question 712 which authorized Class 3 gaming in Oklahoma, our Tribes have paid the state of Oklahoma around $50 million in exclusivity fees and all of the Tribes in Oklahoma combined have paid more than $1.2 billion in exclusivity fees to the state of Oklahoma."

"The Tribes bore the financial risk and built all of the infrastructure and facilities to build casino gambling in Oklahoma while the state has been fortunate to reap the rewards without any investment or risk on its part," Wassana said. "The Tribes use every penny of its gaming net revenues to provide for our tribal members, to operate our tribal government, to fund tribal programs and to assist our surrounding communities."

"Although the tribes are certainly open to Gov. Stitt’s request to negotiate new terms for a gaming compact, our view is we do not feel that taking away from our tribal members’ services is the best option for the tribes," continued Wassana. "Any negotiations that involve raising the fees would be detrimental to the tribes and does not protect the interest of our tribal government. As we have always done and will continue to do, our tribes invest in our futures and stabilize the neediest of elders to maintain a decent quality of life. We invest in our children."

"Our investment far outweighs the investment that may or could be offered through the governor’s plan. As the language of the compact implies, if no new compact negotiations are agreed upon between the tribes and the state, the current compact shall automatically renew for an additional 15 term. The language of the law should prevail,” Gov. Wassana stated.

Taking to twitter, Bill Anoatubby, leader of the Chickasaw Nation wrote, “The governor’s position, as stated in his editorial and letter came as a surprise to us. A position of this significance warrants respectful and purposeful conversations, particularly given the complexity of the compact and the law. We are evaluating the governor’s letter and will consider out options. We have always placed a high value on the partnership we have enjoyed with the state of Oklahoma. The constructive relationship has benefited the economy and the citizens of Oklahoma. It is our hope to preserve this positive partnership so we can continue to work together for the betterment of the state.”

John Berry, leader of Quapaw Nation wrote, “Oklahoma Tribal Nations gaming collectively employs and provides benefits to Oklahomans more than any other industry in Oklahoma, and we are citizens of our Tribal Nations and citizens of this wonderful state of Oklahoma. Our sovereign status demands a respectful approach to any government-to-government interactions, being mindful of the many productive conversations that lead us to the original compacts and a clear understanding of our current and historic economic contributions that have enriched all Oklahomans.”

According to attorney William Norman, if the state wants an increase in the exclusivity fees, tribes would need to acquire something meaningful or substantial in return under the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. "If the state or the tribes do decide to negotiate they will be in unchartered territory as there is no amendment clause, and the original compacts were basically just "set up" with no negotiations," he said.

"What’s important to remember, however, is if negotiations do proceed, the tribes, as separate nations, would negotiate directly with the Oklahoma governor, on a government-to-government platform," Norman said.

A Native American newspaper with a big voice and strong dedication to its readers, the Tribal Tribune is your best source for Cheyenne & Arapaho news. Follow the Tribal Tribune on Twitter @CATribalTribune

The Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribal Tribune can be reached at:
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700 North Black Kettle Blvd.
Concho, OK 73022
P.O. Box 38
405-422-7608 | 405-422-7446

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