Editor’s Note: This story was inadvertently cut off in Thursday’s edition of The Lawton Constitution. It is reprinted here in its entirety.

The leadership of the Comanche Nation and Otoe-Missouria Tribe released a united statement to the Department of Interior emphasizing their perception of the legality of gaming compacts negotiated with and signed by the governor.

The 10-page letter was released as a response to a recent opinion by Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter where he requested David Bernhardt, Secretary of the Interior, to reject the compact agreements.

Hunter argued the compacts should be denied 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 argues that the governor lacks the authority to enter into the agreements because they “fail to meet the requirements of IGRA to constitution a valid gaming compact under federal law and would cause confusion and uncertainty about how state-tribal relations should be appropriately conducted.”

Hunter first came out against the compacts on April 23 with a written statement that the agreements are not authorized by the state’s Tribal Gaming Act.

Wednesday’s letter sent by Comanche Nation Chairman William Nelson Sr. and Otoe-Missouria Tribe Chairman John R. Shotton offered a statement that they “strongly believe their compacts are both legal and in the best interest of their people, their communities and the state of Oklahoma.” Numerous other compacts between tribes and other states that have similar features to the one signed by the leaders on April 21 have been approved by the Department of the Interior over the last several decades, according to their argument.

“While we respect Attorney General Hunter, his grievances with our compact are not well-founded, as our agreements comply entirely with federal and state laws,” Nelson said in a statement “We negotiated these legal compacts in good-faith with the state and they should be approved. They reflect a significant modernization in tribal gaming and will bring new jobs and more revenue to our local communities and the state.”

The tribes argue the compacts are fully consistent with the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) and Oklahoma law. They argue the governor is authorized by an Oklahoma Supreme Court ruling to negotiate compacts with the state’s sovereign nations.

Compacts negotiated under IGRA can, and often do, address forms of gaming currently not allowed by state law, the tribe’s statement continues.

A disputed part of the Comanche Nation’s new compact, according to Hunter’s April 23 letter to Bernhardt, regards the allowance of 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.

Presently, state law doesn’t authorize event wagering.

The Comanches and Otoes cite the Department of the Interior has previously made it clear that an intrastate dispute over the legality of certain games is no reason for disapproval. They cite the 2003 amendments to Wisconsin’s compact with the Sokaogon Chippewa Community, which amended the compact to include forms of Class III gaming that were the subject of an ongoing legal challenge in state court. Notwithstanding the unresolved legal dispute, the amendments were allowed to go into effect.

The tribes argue that, actually, the compacts are entirely consistent with state law.

The memo emphasizes that the Attorney General’s challenges to the event wagering, gaming machine and house-banked game provisions 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 the compacts, event wagering can only be conducted “to the extent such wagers are authorized by law.” Therefore, if it is determined event wagering or house-banked table and card games are not authorized by law, the tribes cannot offer those games in their gaming facilities.

“There is no requirement under state or federal law that says every tribe must operate under a universal model compact, and in fact it goes directly against our tribal sovereignty to imply one compact would be best for all tribes,” Shotton said in his statement. “As individual, sovereign nations, every tribe in the state has the same prerogative to do what is best for its members, as we did for ours. If the Department were to disapprove these compacts, it would strongly discourage the practice of exercising tribal sovereignty in the future, which would be detrimental to all tribes in our state and set a dangerous precedent nationally.”

The U.S. Department of the Interior has 45 days to review and approve both the Comanche Nation and Otoe-Missouria Tribe compacts and is expected to make a ruling on or before June 8.

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

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

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