May 22, 2020
The following statement may be attributed to legal counsel for the Tribes moving May 22, 2020, for summary judgment on the question of whether the gaming compacts renewed January 1, 2020, for a second 15-year term:
The Tribes look forward to the Court’s resolution of this dispute. Since Governor Stitt abruptly pronounced his position in July last year, we have been clear and unified in our position that the conditions for automatic renewal of the compact have been satisfied. The Tribes have always been prepared to discuss revenue sharing rates and new forms of gaming with state leaders, but that must occur within the framework of the compact. Our renewed compacts continue to serve a shared Tribal-State interest in economic stability, transparency and growth.
Governor Stitt’s go-it-alone approach has required us to seek a restoration of stability through the courtroom, and we look forward to bringing this action to a close. Our compacts represent a binding covenant between the State and the Tribes, and we have lived up to every word they contain. We look forward to Governor Stitt eventually joining those other State government officials who, like the Tribes, understand the importance and value of honoring the compacts.
May 5, 2020
We appreciate Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter’s clear analysis of the law and his strong letter to the United States Secretary of the Interior. As the Attorney General states and we have argued for some time, Governor Stitt does not have the authority to bind Oklahoma to his empty promises. Oklahoma and the Tribes deserve better than the carelessness Governor Stitt has brought to the table, and the Attorney General’s analysis encourages us that we will be able to reestablish the sort of Tribal-State engagement that conforms to the law and serves all of us well. Oklahomans deserve no less from state government, and the Tribes remain committed to that result.
April 21, 2020
"We respect the sovereignty of each Tribe to take what actions it believes it must on behalf of its citizens.
All the same, Governor Stitt does not have the authority to do what he claims to have done today. Without the engagement of the Oklahoma Legislature, he has entered agreements based on a claim of unilateral State authority to legalize sportsbook, to revamp the Oklahoma Lottery, and to authorize new gaming facilities in Norman and Stillwater, among other places. That’s simply not the law.
I expect Tribal and State officials are now reviewing the documents he released today and trying to understand what exactly it is Governor Stitt is trying to do. But at the end of the day, I suspect his actions have not helped matters for anyone."
April 10, 2020
Dear Governor Stitt:
The reality of the coronavirus pandemic calls on all of us to act decisively and in service to the public interest. As you, we have taken decisive steps to protect Oklahomans from the virus. We have each, for example, closed our public operations, including our Tribal government gaming operations and hospitality venues. We have done this to limit public gatherings that would otherwise help the virus to spread, and we have done this confident our actions are saving lives.
Our temporary closures, of course, shut off the Tribal government revenues with which we provide programs and services to our citizens and pay our thousands of employees. We did this to help contain the virus and save lives, which is more important than temporary economic disruption. We have also gone further, utilizing precious resources to continue our programs, services, and payrolls for as long as possible so we can help our citizens and employees weather these difficult times. In taking these actions, we have been guided by our belief that the surest path to containing the virus’s comprehensive challenge is to take it seriously and act on the measures broadly recommended by public health experts.
The Trump Administration has emphasized that the time to act is upon us. The coming weeks will be particularly challenging as the virus moves toward its peak across the country. We also know too many Oklahomans suffer from underlying health concerns that leave them uniquely susceptible to the worst of the virus and that too many, particularly in our rural areas, have limited access to good health care. When we can protect others, we believe we must do so.
In affirming your declaration of a statewide public health emergency, the Oklahoma Legislature recently entrusted you with significant temporary powers to protect Oklahomans from the risks posed by COVID-19. In this pivotal moment and with the needs of all Oklahomans in mind, we urge you to use these powers and go further than the present order, and to issue a full and statewide shelter-in-place order. As the experience in other states and countries shows and as broadly recommended by public health experts, this is the surest path to containing the virus’s public health risk and to limit its longer-term social disruptions.
December 31, 2019
The Cherokee, Chickasaw and Choctaw Nations filed a federal lawsuit today to bring an end to the uncertainty Oklahoma Governor J. Kevin Stitt has attempted to cast over tribal gaming operations. The suit names Governor Stitt in his official capacity and seeks a judicial declaration that the gaming compacts renew in accord with their express terms, effective January 1, 2020. The nations provided a copy of the federal complaint to Governor Stitt, along with a letter explaining their reasons for filing it. Counsel for the nations, former United States Circuit Judge Robert Henry, provided a companion letter and copy of the complaint to Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter.
While revenue-share rates have generated significant public interest, the nations’ lawsuit does not address those matters. It instead calls for the court to declare the legal effect of the compact’s Part 15.B., which states—
This Compact shall have a term which will expire on January 1, 2020, and at that time, if organization licensees or others are authorized to conduct electronic gaming in any form other than pari-mutuel wagering on live horse racing pursuant to any governmental action of the state or court order following the effective date of this Compact, the Compact shall automatically renew for successive additional fifteen year terms.
As the nations emphasized in their letter to Governor Stitt, “the dispute—like the lawsuit—is about renewal, not rates.”
The nations have publicly offered statements and analyses that support their position on renewal, including a legal opinion from former Solicitor General of the United States Seth Waxman that concluded:
The renewal provision in the tribes’ gaming compacts with Oklahoma is not ambiguous. Under that provision’s plain language, the compacts will renew automatically when they expire on January 1, because the provision’s sole condition precedent for automatic renewal is unquestionably satisfied. Each of the contrary arguments I have seen to date simply cannot be squared with fundamental principles of contract interpretation.
Without offering support or analysis for his position, Governor Stitt has repeatedly and publicly rejected renewal, instead choosing to criticize Tribes for not working on a new compact with him and insisting the current compacts terminate and falsely declaring tribal gaming unlawful in 2020.
Regarding the nations’ lawsuit, Chickasaw Nation Governor Bill Anoatubby said, “We have a solemn duty to protect the sovereign rights of our tribal nations as well as the interests of our citizens. While we prefer negotiation to litigation, the federal court is now the only reasonable alternative to bring legal certainty to this issue. We remain hopeful we will continue to have a productive and mutually beneficial relationship with the state of Oklahoma once we have resolved this issue.”
Choctaw Nation Chief Gary Batton made the following statement.
“The governor’s stance on the gaming compact has created uncertainty and has been seen as a threat to our employees and our business partners. We see this legal action as the most viable option to restore the clarity and stability the tribes and Oklahoma both deserve by obtaining a resolution that our compact does automatically renew. As elected leaders, it is our responsibility to uphold the compact, honor the will of the Oklahomans who approved State Question 712 and the federal law that defines our relationship with the state on these matters.”
Cherokee Nation Chief Chuck Hoskin, Jr. made the following statement.
“The Cherokee Nation is committed to being a good partner in our community and with the state of Oklahoma as we have done across two centuries and will continue to do as a peaceful, sovereign nation. Governor Stitt has made comments about “uncertainty that exists” regarding Class III gaming after January 1, threats to our casino vendors and their livelihoods and demands for redundant audits. We have little choice but to ask a federal judge to confirm the compact’s automatic renewal on Jan. 1.”
While the Seminole Nation was not a party to the lawsuit on filing, Chief Greg Chilcoat said Governor Stitt’s public position had triggered concerns among vendors and others who work with Oklahoma tribal governments, causing some to worry about instability in the state’s economy. “Rather than respectfully engage with the tribes and seek an amicable resolution, Governor Stitt has continued to insist on our compact’s termination,” Chief Chilcoat said. “While his position is completely at odds with our compact’s language, he has succeeded in causing uncertainty that has an economic consequence. His inconsistent approach has been unfortunate and unnecessary.”
Muscogee (Creek) Nation Chief James Floyd made the following statement.
“The Muscogee (Creek) Nation stands united with our fellow nations and supports the legal action taken by these three tribes today. These efforts are necessary to bring about a swift resolution to the question posed by Governor Stitt.”
Matthew L. Morgan, chairman of the Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association, made the following statement:
“The tribes remain firmly united on the automatic renewal of the compacts. We have communicated our position to Governor Stitt on numerous occasions in hopes of finding a practical path forward benefitting both the state and tribes. That said, as leaders of sovereign nations, the tribal leaders must honor the compacts and will continue to do so on January 1, 2020, as they’ve done the past 15 years. Tribal leaders have the right as well as the responsibility to protect their citizens. Tribal leaders applaud the action taken today by the Cherokee, Choctaw and Chickasaw Nations to seek certainty on the matter of automatic renew through the Federal court.”
December 19, 2019
Leaders and membership of tribal nations in Oklahoma declare their unity and solidarity on the State-Tribal gaming compacts.
On Dec. 17, 2019, leaders from the Five Tribes reaffirmed their position on the state-tribal gaming compacts. Their statements come in light of Gov. Kevin Stitt’s request to renegotiate rates and his stance that the compacts do not automatically renew and, instead, expire on Dec. 31, 2019. You can read the full news release below.
December 17, 2019
Five Tribal leaders commented today on the dispute with Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt regarding the tribal gaming compacts. Muscogee (Creek) Nation Principal Chief James Floyd, Choctaw Nation Chief Gary Batton, Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin, Jr., Seminole Nation Chief Greg Chilcoat, and Chickasaw Nation Governor Bill Anoatubby said the continued insistence the compacts must be renegotiated by January 1, 2020, is unfounded.
Tribal leaders stated categorically that the plain language of the government-to-government compacts is definitive. The compact explicitly states that “the compact shall automatically renew for successive additional fifteen-year terms.” Therefore, tribal gaming operations will continue to be as legal on January 1, 2020 as they are today.
“Unlike contracts, compacts are solemn agreements between two sovereigns that remain in force until both parties agree otherwise,” said Chickasaw Governor Bill Anoatubby. “Former Solicitor General Seth Waxman issued a powerful legal opinion that reinforces our confidence that the compacts automatically renew on January 1. The State of Oklahoma listed certain conditions for automatic renewal in the compact they offered to the Tribes. That compact was accepted by the Tribes and approved by the federal government. We have honored the terms of the compact and intend to continue operating under that renewing agreement, and we expect the State to do the same.”
Tribal leaders said that continuing to convey inaccurate information about expiration of the compacts does a serious disservice to the Tribes and all Oklahomans.
“Tribes value the relationship we have with the State,” Muscogee (Creek) Nation Principal Chief James Floyd said. “History shows we can accomplish a lot for all four million Oklahomans by working together rather than opposing each other.”
In answer to questions about what happens on January 1, 2020, Seminole Nation Chief Greg Chilcoat said it will be business as usual at gaming facilities across the state.
“The holidays are some of the busiest times of the year for the entertainment industry and casinos are no different. The more than 75,000 Oklahomans who work in the tribal gaming industry in Oklahoma will provide our patrons from Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri and Colorado with a wonderful entertainment experience on New Year’s Day and beyond.”
“Tribal leaders remain open to negotiations about exclusivity fee rates,” Choctaw Chief Gary Batton said. “We have not received a formal proposal from the State. We have always been open to a fair and reasonable discussion on rates and still are today as long as Governor Stitt is willing to honor the plain language of our existing agreement, which includes automatic renewal.”
The Tribal leaders stated they are considering a concept for a potential discussion on rates.
“Absent a proposal, leaders will be working on a framework for a reasonable conversation on rates that will deliver value-for-value benefit for both the Tribes and the State,” said Cherokee Nation Chief Chuck Hoskin, Jr. “We are thoughtful in our approach as we meticulously consider ideas at this time – we will be ready whenever the time comes to have a conversation.”
As it relates to introducing corporate commercial gaming, Tribal leaders said it would be a complicated process involving the legislature changing the current law and would constitute a breach of their renewing compact, which could cause the State to forfeit their right to any tribal revenue-share.
“The mature and competitive nature of the Oklahoma market would also make it difficult for a private commercial operator to succeed in Oklahoma. It would be exceptionally disruptive and put hundreds of millions of dollars for the State at risk. Corporate commercial operators export most of their money out of state for the benefit of their shareholders and executives. On the other hand, Tribes invest their money in Oklahoma to help create a better, stronger and more prosperous state benefitting all Oklahomans,” said Chief Hoskin, Jr.
Tribal leaders said they will continue to remit their exclusivity fees to the state next year. The Tribal leaders noted this would help the State avoid any unexpected and unbudgeted shortfall in the State’s budget next year.
“We will continue to fulfill our commitments under the compacts,” Chief Floyd said.
Stay up to date on the stories about all the unique ways state-tribal partnerships work for the benefit of everyone in the state.
Stay up to date on the stories about all the unique ways state-tribal partnerships work for the benefit of everyone in the state.