Oklahoma Lawmakers Reject Governor’s Gaming Compacts With Two Tribes

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Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt speaks during a roundtable discussion with US President Donald Trump in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, DC. SAUL LOEB / AFP

Oklahoma lawmakers came together in order to reject two agreements involving gambling in Oklahoma. These agreements, called ‘compacts’, would have let two Native American tribes set up casinos outside their usual areas. The big concern? This decision also has implications for the future of Oklahoma sports betting.

In 2020, after failing to alter the main state-tribal gaming agreement, Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt brokered these gaming compacts with the United Keetoowah Band and the Kialegee Tribal Town.

The governor’s chief legal advisor, Trevor Pemberton, advocated for the compacts, stating they would be financially advantageous for Oklahoma, as they promise the state a greater portion of earnings from a wider range of games than what’s specified in the standard compact. The committee disagreed.

Why This Meeting Was Important

This group of lawmakers called the Joint Committee on State-Tribal Relations, usually gives the go-ahead before these compacts head over to the U.S. Department. But this time, they voted against it while the tribal members could only watch quietly.

Sen. Greg McCortney was pretty firm in saying that the compact had some big issues. Majority Floor Leader, Jon Echols, said he’s all for tribes having casinos on their lands but mentioned his folks back home don’t want more casinos nearby.  “I have extreme concerns with carte blanche expansion into Oklahoma County,” Echols said, adding that he is “very nervous.”

Some committee members also worry this could set a trend of tribes building wherever they please. Plus, there are already a lot of casinos in Oklahoma, and some thought, “Do we really need more?” The state attorney general’s legal advice also influenced the lawmakers’ decisions.

Muscogee Nation Principal Chief David Hill said, “These compacts were political stunts from the governor meant to divide and conquer tribes,” Hill said. “It’s good to see that Attorney General Gentner Drummond and this panel would rather follow the law.”

Where Do The Tribes Go From Here?

Supporters say that despite the committee’s decision, the tribes could proceed with their casino plans if they win an ongoing federal lawsuit. While both compacts have secured approval from the U.S. Department of the Interior, they were later deemed invalid by the Oklahoma Supreme Court. 

Following the committee’s refusal to endorse the deals, Governor Stitt reiterated his endorsement of the compacts, highlighting their equitable nature and the importance of their acceptance. He raised concerns about the committee’s decision, especially since both participating tribes have federal recognition.

Stitt pointed out that there are already 130 casinos in Oklahoma. He believed that the state would’ve gotten more money, and it would’ve been good for everyone.

Tribe Disappointment

After this decision, Tribe members shared their disappointment. “Today’s defeat, it hurt,” said Joe Bunch, chief of the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians through The Claremore Daily Progress.

Gina Powell from the Kialegee Tribal Town expressed their sadness, saying they wished they could’ve shared their side of the story.

Both tribes felt that the lawmakers should’ve given them a chance to express their views during the meeting. They wanted to share how these new casinos would help their communities, especially since they aren’t the wealthiest.

Now we’ll have to wait and see if they will ever get that chance, and how things unfold in the future. But for now, the compacts are dead.