Stitt: Tribes would 'illegally' run games without new deal

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Oklahoma's Native American tribes would be illegally operating certain gambling games after Jan. 1 if they don't resolve a dispute over the tribes' compacts with the state, Gov. Kevin Stitt said.

In the latest salvo in the state government's dispute with the tribes over whether the tribes' current compacts will expire at the end of the year or renew automatically under the current terms, Stitt questioned how tribes could offer gaming without a “contract” that allows them to operate.

“Are they going to be operating illegally Class III games?” Stitt said Thursday. “That brings a whole host of issues with vendors.”

Class III games include slot machines and roulette, Tulsa World reported.

The state and several tribes have been sparring for months over whether the tribal gambling compacts automatically renew for another 15-year term on Jan. 1.

The Republican governor insists that they will expire at the end of the year, and he wants to renegotiate the amount of money the tribes pay the state for their exclusive right to operate casinos in the state.

“The truth is on our side,” Stitt said. “I feel so confident that Oklahomans can see right through a certain industry, the casino industry, saying, ‘These go on forever.’ That can’t be true.”

The state currently collects between 4% and 10% of tribal gambling revenue. Stitt said negotiations on new rates need to start at 25%, which is the highest rate paid by tribes in some other states.

But the tribes say the compacts automatically renew, and they won't enter negotiation talks unless Stitt acknowledges that. They plan to continue operating Class III games on Jan. 1.

“The fact is, our compacts renew and that our gaming will be as lawful in January 2020 as it is in December 2019,” said Stephen Greetham, senior counsel for the Chickasaw Nation. “Governor Stitt’s position is not supported by law, logic or the compact’s plain language.

The Chickasaw Nation said this week that any disruption to its gaming operations would pose “an intolerable risk" to the tribe.