OKLAHOMA CITY — A federal judge on Monday ordered Gov. Kevin Stitt and the tribes involved in a legal dispute over gaming compacts to enter mediation.
Chief Judge Timothy D. DeGiusti of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma issued the four-page order after a meeting Friday with the parties involved in the lawsuit.
The parties were ordered to each submit a list of three proposed mediators for appointment by the court.
The order said the court will act quickly to appoint a mediator. If none is acceptable, the court will request more names.
Within 21 days of the appointment of a mediator, the parties must submit a mediation status report to the court.
The order says the mediation should be completed or substantially completed by March 31.
“The Court intends this date to be a firm deadline,” the order says, but it leaves the door open for a possible extension.
The court-appointed mediator will have the powers necessary to facilitate the parties’ negotiation of a resolution to the issues raised in the lawsuit, the order says.
The order prohibits the parties from disclosing details of the process without the court’s permission.
“In addition to any and all other prohibitions against disclosure, no party may make any public statement, media release, or other comment for public broadcast regarding the status or conduct of the mediation or the characterization of any party’s position therein without prior leave of the Court,” the order said. “This provision shall apply only to the mediation and the mediation process and does not prohibit any party or their counsel from making any public statement, media release, or other comment for public broadcast relating to that party’s factual or legal position or any other party’s public statement.”
The cost of the mediator will be divided among all parties, according to the order.
The suit was filed Dec. 31 by the Cherokee, Chickasaw and Choctaw nations, who asked a judge to declare that their gaming compacts automatically renewed. The Citizen Potawatomi Nation and the Muscogee (Creek) Nation have been granted permission to intervene.
Stitt believes that the compacts expired Jan. 1 and that Class III gaming is now illegal without a compact. He is seeking higher fees from the tribes.
Tribes pay the state fees ranging from 4% to 10% for the exclusive right to operate Class III gaming, which includes some slot machines, roulette and craps.
The tribes continue to operate Class III games at their facilities.
Last year, the exclusivity fees totaled nearly $150 million, the bulk of which goes to education.
“The mediation order entered by Judge DeGiusti is welcomed by the Governor and the State,” said Baylee Lakey, a Stitt spokeswoman. “The State’s legal team is committed to engaging in good-faith negotiations that will achieve a productive solution for the State’s future, for its 4 million residents, and for all of Oklahoma’s sovereign tribes.”
The Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association is pleased to see the judge move quickly to set a timeline for the first steps to resolving the dispute and looks forward to a timely decision, said Matthew Morgan, OIGA chairman.
“As always, Tribal Governments are bound by the compact and will continue to abide by it,” Morgan said. “The Tribes are making exclusivity fee payments for January 2020, and we are upholding our responsibilities.”
Cherokee Nation Attorney General Sara Hill said, “We appreciate the opportunity to get these proceedings underway and look forward to working with the court to resolve the renewal dispute.”
The state has indicated that it could put the fees paid by the tribe in escrow pending the resolution of the dispute and use other funding in their place.
Gallery: What you need to know about tribal gaming in Oklahoma.
What is the dispute?
What is a compact?
How much does the state receive from tribal gaming compacts?
How much did the state receive in 2019?
What types of games are covered by the compact?
Can the compacts be expanded for other types of gaming?
How many tribes are involved in the gaming compacts?
How many tribal compact gaming operations exist?
How do tribes use the money generated from gaming?
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