The Oklahoma Attorney General is contesting the authority of new gaming compacts between the State of Oklahoma and the Comanche Nation and Otoe-Missouria Tribe.

On Tuesday, Attorney General Mike Hunter issued an official opinion that had been sought by Senate President Pro Tem Greg Treat and House Speaker Charles McCall. Hunter said the governor lacks authority to enter into and bind the state to compacts with Indian tribes that authorize gaming activity prohibited by state law.

The opinion was requested by the House and Senate leadership following the governor’s compact agreements with the Otoe-Missouria Tribe and the Comanche Nation late last month, according to a statement from Hunter.

Comanche Nation Chairman William Nelson Sr. and Otoe-Missouria Tribe Chairman John R. Shotton issued the following statement regarding Hunter’s opinion on the legality of the new tribal gaming compacts:

“Our compacts are legal and were negotiated in good faith. The political fight between the governor and the attorney general over sports betting is not our concern and does not impact the legality of the compacts. We look forward to approval of the compacts, which are good for our tribal members, our local communities and the state as a whole.”

Nelson and Shotton signed the new gaming compacts with Stitt during an April 21 signing ceremony at the State Capitol.

According to the Comanche Nation’s compact, existing facilities in Lawton, Devol, Walters and Richards Spur will pay exclusivity fees to the state of 4.5 percent until the Approval Trigger kicks up the amount to 6 percent upon the Bureau of Indian Affair’s approval for proposed gaming facilities in Love, Cleveland and Grady counties.

Comanche Nation legal council Robert A. Rosette said in a prior statement that the tribe will pay 4.5 percent of gaming revenue to the state instead of the prior 6 percent and will also be able to provide Class III gaming, to include sports books.

Event wagering (examples: horse racing, college or professional sports) will compel the tribe to turn over 1.1 percent of the transaction total. Also, wagering will not be allowed on events/athletics taking place in Oklahoma, according to the proposed compact.

Presently, state law doesn’t authorize event wagering.

The new compact for the Comanche Nation is slated to expire at midnight Dec. 31, 2035.

The compact needs Department of the Interior – Bureau of Indian Affairs approval before it can be considered in place.

Hunter sent a letter regarding his opinion to Secretary of the Interior David Berhardt, where he requested the secretary to reject the agreements because they are not authorized by the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) and out of deference to determinations of state law made by the legal officials of the state. He stated that the governor lacks the authority to enter into the agreement because they “fail to meet the requirements of IGRA to constitution a valid gaming compact under federal law.

“How a state enters into a gaming compact with a tribe, including whether the Governor may do so unilaterally in contravention of state statute, is a core concern of the state’s constitutional structure and is therefore a matter of state law,” Hunter wrote.

The attorney general concludes the letter by writing that Oklahoma deeply values its relationship with the tribal nations that reside within its borders, and approval of the agreements stand to harm those relationships.

“They are an integral part of our community, history, culture, economy, and way of life,” Hunter wrote. “Their importance demands the respect of knowing that, when state officials make promises to Indian tribes, those officials have the authority to bind the State to such agreements.”

“To do otherwise undermines the credibility and honor of the State when engaging in these sensitive inter-sovereign relations. Unfortunately, I fear the agreements sent recently to you by the Governor will only have the effect of damaging the relationship between the State and these two tribes. Moreover, for all tribes in Oklahoma, approval of these agreements as gaming compacts will only cause greater confusion and uncertainty about how state-tribal relations should be appropriately conducted.”

Almost immediately following the signing of the gaming compacts, Hunter came out against the action on April 23 with a written statement that the agreements are not authorized by the state’s Tribal Gaming Act.

Written by Scott Rains: scott.rains@swoknews.com.

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