OKLAHOMA CITY — In an effort to kick-start negotiations, Gov. Kevin Stitt on Tuesday sent a letter to tribal leaders suggesting both sides put aside their disagreement over when the tribes’ gaming compacts with the state expire.
But the governor’s position on the compacts remains unchanged.
“I am confident that if we work with diligence we can come to an agreement on the future of the gaming compact in a relatively short order,” Stitt wrote. “Because of this confidence, I propose we table the issue of the renewal or termination date of the exiting compact, and use our time more productively by focusing on coming to a shared vision of gaming in Oklahoma for the future.”
Donelle Harder, a Stitt spokeswoman, said Thursday that the governor still believes the compacts expire on Jan. 1, 2020, and that “exclusivity” fees paid by the tribes should be raised.
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Tribal representatives have said the compacts automatically renew and that an argument for reducing the fee can be made.
Stitt wants to table the expiration date disagreement and start discussing fees, said Matthew Morgan, Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association chairman.
“I don’t think he heard tribal leaders’ issues,” Morgan said. “We need to take care of it in the forefront.”
If the issue can’t be resolved, there is nothing else to discuss, Morgan said.
Under the compacts, tribes pay the state a fee to exclusively operate Class III gaming, such as slot machines, in Oklahoma.
Exclusivity fees range from 4% to 10%.
In fiscal year 2018, Oklahoma collected nearly $139 million in tribal gaming exclusivity fees, according to a report from the state’s Office of Management and Enterprise Services.
Stitt last month sent tribes a letter indicating the compact expires and the entire compact needs to be renegotiated so Class III gaming can continue.
In an opinion piece in July, Stitt said Oklahoma’s fees are the lowest in the nation, a statement tribes say is incorrect.
Stitt has been meeting with tribal leaders across the state.
In a joint statement Thursday, the leaders of the state’s Five Civilized Tribes said they are carefully reviewing Stitt’s latest letter.
“In the meantime, we appreciate Governor Stitt’s recognition of the importance of our intergovernmental relationship and the Tribes’ contributions to Oklahoma,” the statement reads. “We welcome the inclusion of the Oklahoma attorney general and legislative leadership into the conversation. While his latest communication is warmer in tone, we still have concerns and will formally respond in due course.
“As always, we believe we are stronger working together than we are apart.”
The statement was attributed to Cherokee Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr., Chickasaw Gov. Bill Anoatubby, Choctaw Chief Gary Batton, Muscogee (Creek) Nation Principal Chief James R. Floyd and Seminole Nation Chief Greg P. Chilcoat.
Stitt’s most recent letter indicates Attorney General Mike Hunter and a designee from each legislative chamber will be involved in negotiations. Legislative approval would be required to expand gaming to include things like sports betting.
Stitt also said in the letter that it would be helpful if the state and the tribes can agree on a mediator to facilitate talks, which he suggested begin Sept. 3.
“The other part of that is he wants to bring in a mediator to talk,” Morgan said. “I think tribal leaders really want to sit down with him on a government-to-government basis and have a direct conversation with the governor.”
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