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Legislative leaders ask state Supreme Court to intervene in tribal gaming lawsuit

Legislative leaders ask state Supreme Court to intervene in tribal gaming lawsuit

Tribal confrontation (copy)

Stitt dropped a bombshell on the state’s tribal governments when he announced in early July his intention to negotiate entirely new gaming compacts by the end of the year. The tribes said Stitt misunderstands the terms of the compacts and that they are under no obligation to engage in such talks, although they said they are open to discussing some changes. Stitt maintains the compacts expired at the end of December and the casinos are operating illegally. The three largest gaming tribes — Choctaw, Chickasaw and Cherokee — filed suit on Dec. 31, seeking a declaratory judgment in the matter. NATE BILLINGS/The Oklahoman

OKLAHOMA CITY — Oklahoma’s top two legislative leaders interjected themselves into the gaming lawsuit between Gov. Kevin Stitt and several tribal governments on Thursday by asking the Oklahoma Supreme Court to assume original jurisdiction over a portion of the proceedings.

Senate President Pro Tem Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma City, and House Speaker Charles McCall, R-Atoka, want the state Supreme Court, not a federal judge, to decide whether Stitt has the right to effectively expand the scope of Indian gaming in the state without the consent of the Legislature.

Stitt is locked in a lawsuit with several tribes over whether their gaming compacts with the state expired on Dec. 31. Simultaneously, in April, he signed new compacts with the Otoe-Missouria and Comanche that McCall, Treat, Attorney General Mike Hunter and the other tribes say are not valid because they include forms of gambling not allowed under the Oklahoma Indian Gaming Act.

Specifically, the compacts would allow sports betting and true house-banked games such as blackjack, craps and roulette.

Last week Stitt asked Chief Federal District Judge Timothy DeGuisti to suspend the lawsuit proceedings until DeGiusti rules on Hunter’s May 5 opinion that Stitt exceeded his authority.

It is that decision that McCall and Treat want made in state court.

“Federal judges decide matters of federal law, not matters of state law, and at issue is a matter of state law. Asking federal judges to decide a matter of state law is a dangerous intrusion into states’ rights,” Treat said in a joint press release with McCall.

McCall, in an email to House Republicans, said Thursday’s filing “is about much more than gaming compacts. Had the state executive branch asked the federal judicial branch to make a ruling concerning purely state law on some other matter — whether it be the Second Amendment, abortion, healthcare or anything else — this same type of legal response by the legislative branch would be necessary to protect Oklahoma’s rights and uphold the Oklahoma Constitution, as we each swear an oath to do.

“This is not an action we wanted to take,” McCall continued, “but unfortunately, the executive branch’s legal action in the federal case — which was not communicated to the House or Senate in advance — thrust the state into an untenable position requiring us to respond.”

Stephen Greetham, senior counsel for the Chickasaw Nation and the state’s largest gaming tribe, welcomed the legislative leaders’ action.

“We deeply appreciate the leadership demonstrated today by President Pro Tem Treat and Speaker McCall,” Greetham said in a written statement. “The action they filed in the Oklahoma Supreme Court is tailored to protect their constitutional role as Oklahoma’s policymakers and will help get things back on the right track.”

Stitt notified the various tribes last summer that he considered their gaming compacts to end on Dec. 31, 2019, and warned them that failure to negotiate new compacts with him would result in most of the games in their casinos being declared illegal.

The tribes disagreed, pointing to language they said automatically renewed the compacts.

This issue is the one before DeGiusti.

Although the tribes have for the most part put up a united front, Stitt was able to secure agreements with the Otoe-Missouri and Comanche, two medium-sized operations, in April.

Those agreements included sports betting, true house-banked games and provisions for expansion into areas of the state now controlled by other tribes, including the Chickasaw.

There has been some grumbling that the larger gaming tribes, and particularly the Chickasaw, exert undue influence on gaming in the state. The Comanche treaty in particular could potentially challenge Chickasaw market share.

The U.S. Department of Interior is required to accept or reject the Otoe-Missouria and Comanche compacts by Monday. Hunter has urged the department to reject them.

Thursday’s lawsuit formally brings not only Treat and McCall into the fray, but former Senate President Pro Tem Glenn Coffee. An Oklahoma City attorney who still holds considerable influence in state politics, Coffee is attorney of record on Thursday’s application to the state Supreme Court and the accompanying brief.


Tribal gaming 101: What you need to know about Oklahoma tribal gaming

Randy Krehbiel 918-581-8365

Twitter: @rkrehbiel

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