OKLAHOMA CITY — The Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that gaming compacts signed by Gov. Kevin Stitt and leadership from the Comanche Nation and Otoe-Missouria Tribes are invalid under state law.
The Comanche Nation tribal chairman said the court is wrong and the tribe intends to continue operating under the gaming compact’s terms.
On Tuesday, the Supreme Court ruled with a 7-1 decision that the compacts signed in April by Sitt, along with Comanche Nation Chairman William Nelson Sr. and Otoe-Missouria Tribe Chairman John Shotton, are “invalid under Oklahoma law.”
Nelson disagrees with the State high court’s ruling. In a statement following the decision, he said the compact is legal under federal law and “is a matter of our tribal sovereignty.”
“We intend to continue operating under the terms of the compact outside of offering games not currently authorized by state law,” he said. “Our compact is legal and we are prepared to legally invoke the compact’s severability clause if necessary.”
The tribes made deals that would allow them to offer wagering on sporting events and house-banked card and table games. The compacts also would allow for construction of new casinos closer to larger population centers and would have provided a larger share of gaming revenue from those centers.
According to the Comanche’s compact, when approved by the Department of the Interior and the ensuing construction, the Love County site near Thackerville off Interstate 35 would pay exclusivity fees to the state in the amount of 13 percent; Cleveland County near Will Rogers International Airport, 12 percent; and Grady County along Interstate 44, 8 percent.
The tribes’ prior gaming compacts called for the tribes to pay between 4 and 10 percent of casino’s net revenue in exclusivity fees, giving the tribes exclusive rights to operate casinos. Those fees generated nearly $139 million in payments to the state in 2018 from about $2.3 billion in revenue from the covered games. Stitt had publicly called for fees up to 25 percent of revenue.
Following the signing of the compact, Comanche Nation legal council Robert A. Rosette provided a statement that reminded that the tribe had sued Stitt and the State of Oklahoma when the original gaming compact expired Dec. 31, 2019. Under the new compact, the Comanche Nation would pay 4.5 percent of the gaming revenue instead of the prior 6 percent at their established casinos in Lawton, Devol, Walters and Richards Spur.
On June 1, the U.S. Department of the Interior approved the compacts following the expiration of a 45-day review period. That move overrode an opinion provided by Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter that the governor lacked the authority to enter into and bind the state to compacts with Indian tribes that authorize gaming activity prohibited by law.
Following the Supreme Court decision, Hunter issued a statement:
“The Supreme Court affirmed what my office has opined, and the pro tem of the Senate and the speaker of the House of Representatives have argued all along, the governor lacks the authority to enter into and bind the state to compacts with Indian tribes that authorize gaming activity prohibited by state law,” he said. “We applaud today’s ruling and appreciate the court for carefully looking at this and coming to an apt conclusion. We hope this settles and advances the resolution of gaming compact negotiations.”
The Supreme Court’s decision centered on the lack of authorization by the State Legislature regarding wagering on sports and house-banked and table games. Therefore, according to its decision, any revenue from such games is prohibited.
“The court must, therefore, conclude Governor Stitt exceeded his authority in entering into the tribal gaming compacts with the Comanche Nation and Otoe-Missouria Tribes that included Class III gaming prohibited by the State-Tribal Gaming Act,” the court wrote.
Stitt’s office is reviewing the court’s decision.
One justice offered a dissent to the ruling. Justice John Kane, one of two Stitt appointees on the court, said he would have dismissed the case because the tribes are “indispensable parties” but were not part of the case.
The lawsuit challenging the compacts was brought by Republican legislative leaders.
Stitt also remains locked in a legal dispute with many other Oklahoma-based tribal nations. Three of the state’s most powerful tribes, the Cherokee, Chickasaw and Choctaw nations, sued the governor late last year regarding the standing of the compacts signed in 2005. They contend the compacts automatically renewed Jan. 1.