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Four Oklahoma tribes sue Gov. Stitt, federal agency over gaming agreements
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Four Oklahoma tribes sue Gov. Stitt, federal agency over gaming agreements

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Stitt on tribal compacts

Gov. Kevin Stitt outlined his negotiations over tribal gaming compacts at a December press conference. A federal judge last week agreed with tribes that the compacts automatically renewed on Jan. 1, 2020. NATE BILLINGS/The Oklahoman file

Four Oklahoma tribes filed a lawsuit Friday against the U.S. Department of the Interior and Gov. Kevin Stitt, seeking a declaration that the agency violated federal law in allowing Stitt’s gaming agreements with the Comanche Nation and the Otoe-Missouria Tribe to take effect as approved.

“While the Oklahoma Supreme Court has declared those agreements invalid under Oklahoma law, their validity under Federal law must also be addressed to avoid damage to the integrity of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act,” the plaintiff tribes’ attorneys wrote in a news release.

The Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw and Citizen Potawatomi Nations filed the suit in U.S. District Court under the Administrative Procedures Act, also naming Comanche Nation Chairman William Nelson and Otoe-Missouria Tribe Chairman John Shotton as defendants in their official capacities.

“This lawsuit seeks reversal of the Defendant Secretary’s arbitrary, capricious, and unlawful ‘no action’ approval under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act,” the suit reads.

The lawsuit claims that the Interior Department, specifically naming Secretary David Bernhardt and Assistant Secretary Tara Katuk MacLean Sweeney in their official capacities, was obligated by law to disapprove the agreements based on the multiple provisions that were invalid under the Indian gaming act.

One such provision authorized categories of games including sports and video game betting, even though they are not permitted under Oklahoma law.

The lawsuit also claims that the agreements made are not compacts — which would be required because the state lacks jurisdiction over tribes — because the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act requires that a compact be legally entered into by both parties and the governor did not have the authority to enter into the agreements on behalf of his state.

“The Agreements do not identify any source of the Defendant Governor Stitt’s authority other than his own claim to hold such authority, which is patently insufficient, and the Supreme Court of Oklahoma has since squarely held that Governor Stitt does not have authority to bind the State to the Agreements.”

Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association Chairman Matthew Morgan said his agency will continue to support its members’ rights to protect the integrity of their treaty territories, and he thanked the tribal governments for their work in protecting the Class III framework established by voters in State Question 712 in 2004.

In a news release, he called Stitt’s maneuvering the tribal governments into such a position “sad.”

“Stitt never had the legal authority to enter into these gaming agreements,” Morgan said. “Hopefully, the suit filed today will bring an end to this unnecessary and costly chapter and allow all the state and tribal governments to move back to a proper government-to-government relationship that includes honest and respectful communications for the betterment of all of Oklahoma.”

Stitt’s office does not comment on pending litigation, a spokesman said.


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Kelsy Schlotthauer

918-581-8455

kelsy.schlotthauer@tulsaworld.com

Twitter: @K_Schlott

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I write because I care about people, policing and peace, and I believe the most informed people make the best decisions. I joined the Tulsa World in 2019 and currently cover breaking news. Phone: 918-581-8455

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