Oklahoma tribe warns 'intolerable risk' over gaming dispute

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — With a deadline for new Oklahoma gaming compact looming, a Native American tribe has warned the federal government that it might take legal action to avoid disruption to tribal casino operations in the state.

Chickasaw Nation Gov. Bill Anoatubby sent a letter Tuesday to the U.S. Department of the Interior — the federal agency that oversees tribal gaming — insisting that his tribe's gaming compact with Oklahoma automatically renews Jan. 1, despite Gov. Kevin Stitt's attempts to renegotiate the terms.

“(Any) attempt to disrupt our Tribal government gaming operations would present an intolerable risk of injury to the Chickasaw Nation and its citizens,” Anoatubby wrote. He didn't ask the federal agency to take action, but noted that a “formal dispute" could be in the works, Tulsa World reported.

“We reserve our right to take legal action, if necessary, to protect the Chickasaw Nation’s legal and sovereign rights as well as the material interests of our citizens who rely on government programs and services supported by our gaming operation revenues,” Anoatubby wrote.

Oklahoma and several tribes have been sparring for months over whether tribal gambling compacts automatically renew for another 15-year term on Jan. 1 if they can’t reach an agreement.

Stitt wants the tribes to pay more for their exclusive right to operate casinos in the state. He wants to renegotiate the terms of the compact, which he argues will expire at the end of the year. He said the state’s current rate of between 4% and 10% of tribal gambling revenue should be larger.

The state has also sought Department of the Interior guidance on its potential role if an agreement is not met by Dec. 31, said Donelle Harder, Stitt's senior adviser and spokeswoman.

“Gov. Stitt is not planning on taking legal action at this point,” Harder said. “He truly believes and hopes there is opportunity to negotiate before the Jan. 1 deadline.”

Meanwhile, the Chickasaw Nation, Choctaw Nation and Cherokee Nation retained the Washington, D.C.,-based law firm WilmerHale for a legal opinion on compact renewals.

Former U.S. Solicitor General Seth P. Waxman wrote the compacts. In a Nov. 26 letter to tribal leaders, Waxman said the governor’s position is not defensible and that the compacts automatically renew.