Since the beginning of the year, there has been much debate as to whether the gaming compacts between Oklahoma’s Native American tribes and the state were automatically renewed on Jan. 1.
On April 21, the Comanche Nation and the Otoe-Missouria tribes reached gaming compact agreements with Gov. Kevin Stitt. The compacts would allow both tribes to build a casino on tribal land, and create a sportsbook – which would be a first for Oklahoma – in exchange for increased revenue payments to the state.
Then on May 7, both tribes were removed from the Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association and suspended through at least the end of the year. There were also comments made by Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter challenging event wagering, gaming machines and house-banked game provisions, saying they rely “entirely on a false premise – that the compacts in and of themselves will authorize event wagering and house-banked gaming and certain gaming machines in the State of Oklahoma. That is not what the compacts do.”
According to a joint statement released by the two tribes, under the compacts, event wagering can only take place if they are authorized by law. If those types of games are not allowed by law, then tribes can’t offer those games in their casinos.
John R. Shotton, chairman of the Otoe-Missouria Tribe, said he feels his tribe did what was in its best interest and reached an agreement that works for both sides.
“We feel like we negotiated in good faith with the governor. We feel like we came to a deal that is legal,” Shotton said in an interview with the News Press. “Right now, we are waiting on feedback from the Office of Indian Gaming and the Department of the Interior on approval. We understand that there’s differing opinions at the state as to whether the governor had the authority, but we as a tribe, we negotiated in good faith and did everything legal on our side. And we’re hopeful that the Office of Indian Gaming will approve those compacts, and hopefully from then on will be vowed for the Otoe-Missouria Tribe.”
Shotton said the compacting process is sovereignty in motion, with the tribe working with the state to come to an agreement that is mutually beneficial for both parties.
“That is asserting our tribal sovereignty … each and every one of our tribes, whether you’re Otoe-Missouria or another tribe in Oklahoma, those tribal governments have the right to come to those agreements,” Shotton said. “Not everybody has to have the same agreement. It’s a process in which the tribal leadership, their job, my job, is to find the best possible deal and arrangement for my tribe, so that’s how we went about the process.”
As part of its compact with the governor, the Otoe-Missouria would be allowed to build a casino in Payne County near a state highway, if the compact is approved. Shotton said it is a future development, and that even if the compacts are approved, there are further federal processes such as consulting with local governments, environmental regulations and other lengthy aspects to the process.
Shotton said one of the more difficult parts of the process is getting concurrence from the governor. Stitt said he would agree to the construction of a casino in Payne County as part of the compact.
“That’s a big deal for the tribe (getting the concurrence from the governor’s office). Many times, that’s one of the hardest things to get,” Shotton said. “But as far as what it means for the tribe, it would be great. Obviously, expanding our footprint of our current facilities, being able to move into another county and to develop a real nice facility that bring jobs and revenue not only to the tribe, but to the county and the community we’re in.
“We like to think we’re a big partner in all the communities that we operate in now and we provide a lot of employment. Right now, we’re the third-largest employer in Kay and Noble counties. We feel like if we were able to move into Payne County, we’d obviously be a major employer. The impact that we have not only at the facility level, but all the auxiliary business that comes along with that when you have a major economic location like a casino in your county … it’s big for the whole community. It can have a huge financial impact for the county, the municipality we’re in, wherever we decide to build that facility once it’s approved.”
Shotton said one thing that gets lost in the shuffle in the discussion over the gaming compacts is that right now, only arguments about whether they renewed automatically are being heard. He said it could be a lengthy litigation process, and that he doesn’t quite know when the end might be in sight.
“For us, we felt it was in our best interest to negotiate, to come to a deal, and have a real strong foundation moving forward,” he said. “I’m hopeful that the other tribes will find a process or a conclusion, and they can have the same stability moving forward, but that’s up to them and their individual tribal councils to settle that situation.”