Anyone following state news knows of the ongoing battle between Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt and the tribal nations over the renewal of the tribal casino gaming compacts.
The governor stated in a recent news conference that he supports tribes and is proud of his own tribal heritage (Stitt is a citizen of the Cherokee Nation), but that as an elected official, he must represent all Oklahomans in issues that arise. The current gaming compacts ended at the close of the year, and he is willing to offer an extension past the Jan. 1 deadline for the renewal. The tribes say the compact automatically renewed for another 15 years if the state and tribes fail to negotiate a new compact.
As with most cases, the issue comes down to money. The governor has stated for over a year that he wants to renegotiate the compacts. According to an editorial piece written in The Oklahoman, Stitt said at a May 2018 campaign event that the state needed a good deal. It is apparent he thinks Oklahoma’s exclusivity fees of 4-10%, paid by the tribes for the exclusive rights to offer Class III gaming, are no longer acceptable, compared to the higher fees paid in other states, like Arkansas.
However, the governor failed to begin the negotiation process in the required 180-day time period prior to renewal and instead waited until the last minute, thus creating a false crisis.
Beyond that, however, is the troubling fact that the governor is obviously not realizing, or worse yet ignoring, the vital impact the tribal nations have on lessening the many burdens on this state in regard to road and bridge repair, health care, education, water, housing, business, tourism and more. His alienation tactics in this issue are to the detriment of all Oklahomans, both native and non-native alike, and will hurt his legacy as the state’s top elected official in the long run, if not rectified.
To someone on the outside of these negotiations, it appears that greed, and not the overall concern of the people of the state, is the reason behind the governor’s actions on this issue. Recent statements indicate the governor has already had conversations with commercial gaming representatives who desire to come to the state and set up operations.
Tribal leaders are correct when they say bringing in commercial operations from the outside would be a very long and complicated process that would bring the necessity of getting the Legislature involved and changing state law. In addition, they say that action could cause a breach of contract, thus forfeiture of the state’s right to receive its share of tribal gaming revenues generated.
Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. said in a statement that the Oklahoma market would be a difficult one for commercial operators to succeed, and would be disruptive and put hundreds of millions of dollars for the state at risk. In addition, he said commercial operators export most of their money out of state for shareholders and corporate executives who live elsewhere. To the contrary, he added that tribal operations invest their profits here in the state, which is beneficial to all by building a better and stronger state.
Recent decades have proved that that state needs strong tribal nations to better succeed, and Oklahoma's elected officials are far better off using the tribal nations as partners in the betterment of all those living and visiting here. The governor has created a public relations nightmare for himself, and he needs to begin working with the tribes and stop working against them.
Randy Gibson is the CEO of RDG Communications Group, LLC, and the former director of the Tahlequah Area Chamber of Commerce and the Texas State Rifle Association.