The Oklahoma Supreme Court struck a blow to Gov. Kevin Stitt’s fight against tribes over gaming compacts this week, as the court held he exceeded his authority by agreeing to two compacts with the Comanche Nation and Otoe-Missouria Tribe.
Stitt signed the agreements with the two tribes in April, but according to the court, he cannot legally bind the state to such compacts until the Legislature enacts laws to allow Class III gaming. Those types of games – sports betting and house-banked card and table games – are prohibited by the Oklahoma State-Tribal Gaming Act.
Senate Pro Tem Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma City, and House Speaker Charles McCall, R-Atoka, filed the suit in June, and said this week the ruling confirms what they have argued all along.
“This has always been about preserving the separation of powers among the legislative, judicial and executive branches of government,” said Treat. “When one branch of government acts outside of its authority, the other branches must take steps to restore the balance of power.”
The Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association, which suspended both tribes earlier this year for their deals with Stitt, has applauded the ruling.
“Today’s decision confirms what the tribes have been saying since Gov. Stitt first launched his go-it-alone drive to rewrite our compacts,” said OIGA Chairman Matthew Morgan. “We believe firmly that the state-tribal relationship works best when we each act within the roles we have under the law.”
However, it appears the Comanche Nation, Otoe-Missouria Tribe, and Stitt aren’t so convinced on the court's decision. Comanche Nation Chairman William Nelson Sr. has reportedly said the tribe is not offering games not currently authorized by state law, and that the compact is legal. Otoe-Missouria Tribe Chairman John R. Shotton expressed similar sentiments, and said the court actually does not have the jurisdiction to invalidate the compact.
“We have said all along we do not plan to offer house-banked card and table games and event wagering until they are authorized by state law,” said Shotton. “Indeed, this condition was part of the compact, and it was unfortunately overlooked by the Court. We will continue to operate under the remaining terms of our compact pursuant to the severability clause of the compact, and we will refrain from operating any game that is not authorized under state law.”
Stitt, meanwhile, contends there is a conflict between federal and state laws, and said the state needs to ensure all federally recognized tribes “can legally game and enjoy all the privileges conferred by [the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.”
The decision by the state Supreme Court comes as the governor is in a battle with a large portion of Oklahoma’s federally recognized tribe’s – including the Cherokee Nation – over whether compacts automatically renewed at the beginning of the year. A federal judge is expected to make a determination soon on that issue.
And as the tribes await a decision on that case, Treat and McCall filed another suit against Stitt last week, regarding a pair of agreements signed July 1 between him and the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians and the Kialegee Tribal Town. That case is reportedly pending before the state’s high court.