OKLAHOMA CITY — The head of the largest gaming tribe in Oklahoma has told the federal agency that oversees tribal gaming that any effort to disrupt its operations would be an “intolerable risk” to the tribe and its citizens.
In a Tuesday letter to the U.S. Department of
the Interior, Chickasaw Nation Gov. Bill Anoatubby explained the tribe’s position in an ongoing dispute with the state over tribal gaming compacts but said he was not asking for any action from the federal agency at this time. He said, however, that a “formal dispute may be imminent.”
The Department of the Interior approves compacts between states and tribes, including the initial Oklahoma tribal gaming compacts in 2005.
Oklahoma tribes and Gov. Kevin Stitt are in a standoff over renewal of the gaming compacts, which bring millions of dollars to the state.
Stitt says the compacts expire Jan. 1 and need to be renegotiated. The tribes believe that the compacts automatically renew.
The Chickasaw Nation, Choctaw Nation and Cherokee Nation retained the Washington, D.C.-based law firm WilmerHale for a legal opinion on renewal of the compacts, written by former U.S. Solicitor General Seth P. Waxman.
In a Nov. 26 letter to tribal leaders, Waxman said the governor’s position is not defensible and that the compacts automatically renew.
Donelle Harder, a Stitt senior adviser and spokeswoman, said Wednesday that the state also has been communicating with the Department of the Interior and the White House.
“We have sought their guidance on what role the federal agency would play if an agreement is not met by Dec. 31,” she said. “It doesn’t surprise us that the law firm the tribes retained would share their position.”
In his letter, Anoatubby told the Department of the Interior that “any attempt to disrupt our Tribal government gaming operations would present an intolerable risk of injury to the Chickasaw Nation and its citizens.”
“Accordingly, 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,” he wrote.
Stitt’s office was asked Tuesday if the governor intends to take any legal action. Tribes have said they will continue gaming operations as normal on Jan. 1 and beyond.
Talks between the state and tribes have been continuing, and “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.”
She added that “we haven’t planned for what takes place Jan. 1 because we want to get the uncertainty resolved.”
Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter met with tribal leaders in October, but no agreements were reached. The tribes declined an offer of arbitration, but “the attorney general feels they have had some positive conversations,” Harder said.
Hunter’s office on Tuesday declined to comment.
Stitt wants the tribes, who operate more than 130 casinos in the state, to pay more for their exclusive right to offer gaming in the state. The governor says rates that currently range from 4 percent to 10 percent from Class III gaming, which includes slot machines and roulette, should be increased.
The tribes paid the state $148.2 million in gaming fees in fiscal year 2019.