We could soon learn whether a dispute between the governor and Oklahoma’s Indian tribes will end amicably and quickly, or drag out for some time to come.

The meeting Oct. 28 in Shawnee is the result of Gov. Kevin Stitt announcing earlier this year that he wants to renegotiate the gaming compacts that dictate the types of games tribes can offer and spell out the state’s share of the revenue. Stitt contends the state should get a larger share in some cases.

The governor also argues the compacts, which date to 2004, expire at year’s end. The tribes say the compacts renew automatically on Jan. 1 if new terms are not agreed upon.

That’s a central sticking point. But in a meeting Thursday with The Oklahoman, the heads of the state’s five largest tribes also said that it’s wrong to view this as a contract negotiation, a term Stitt has used.

A compact, Chickasaw Nation Gov. Bill Anoatubby said, is “an agreement between two governments, and there is no restriction on the length of time that agreement can exist.”

Choctaw Nation Chief Gary Batton said that with contracts, “it’s usually a business deal, then you look at how it benefits you most by profit. In a compact, you have to look at your constituency and make sure it’s best for your constituents. Us and the state, all of us, we had to come to those agreements. That’s what happened in 2004.”

Stitt angered many tribal leaders at the outset with an op-ed in which he said the fees paid to the state were the lowest in the nation. The tribes have undertaken a major media campaign that focuses on ways the tribes have benefited the state.

A study released in July by Oklahoma City University said Oklahoma’s tribes had a $12.93 billion economic impact to the state in 2017. The tribes generate $4.6 billion in wages and benefits, directly and indirectly, and support roughly 96,000 jobs. The study was based on data gathered from 15 of Oklahoma’s 38 federally recognized tribes.

“You’re looking at representatives of governments that have such an immense positive impact on this entire state — economically, health and well-being, housing, across the board,” Cherokee Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. said.

The five leaders noted that in addition to what they provide state coffers through their gaming “exclusivity fees,” they provide considerable money, programs and services to tribal members and nonmembers alike. They don’t want to see those impacted negatively.

Batton said he was “cautiously optimistic” an agreement could be reached without having to go to court. Anoatubby said progress has been made, “and in my view, there’s hope.”

Stitt designated the attorney general to take the lead for the state. The tribal leaders said the meeting Oct. 28 will be their first chance to hear and consider the state’s analysis.

“People can disagree when they have agreements, and that seems to be what’s happened,” Hoskin said. “We just want to get to the point where we can resolve it.”

Batton said the dispute has been viewed as a business deal involving taxation and exclusivity fees. “If we can figure out what we’re trying to do for Oklahoma,” he said, “we can come to an agreement.”

Stay tuned.

— The Oklahoman

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