A federal district judge in Oklahoma City has ruled that the state’s gambling agreements with most resident Indian tribes automatically renewed on Jan. 1.
U.S. District Judge Timothy DeGiusti’s Tuesday opinion was a big victory for Oklahoma tribes that have gambling operations.
It essentially undercuts Gov. Kevin Stitt’s position that tribal casinos were operating illegally because they had no agreement with the state.
Stitt has spent more than $1.5 million in attorney and consultant fees in the ongoing dispute, and that number is sure to go ever higher if Stitt appeals DeGiusti’s ruling.
Under the renewed agreements, tribes pay the state from 4% to 10% in exchange for exclusive rights to certain kinds of gambling. For months, Stitt has been trying to force the tribes to renegotiate toward a bigger cut for the state.
At the same time that Stitt has been battling the tribes in court, he has become increasingly isolated politically.
Attorney General Mike Hunter initially agreed to negotiate the issue for the state, but parted ways with the governor when the two couldn’t agree on fundamental goals.
Meanwhile, Stitt has signed two sets of agreements with outlier tribes that aren’t part of the federal court litigation, only to see the state’s top legislative leaders challenge him successfully in state court.
Last week, the Oklahoma Supreme Court declared the first agreements invalid because they went beyond what state law allows. The second set of agreements faces a similar challenge from Speaker of the House Charles McCall and Senate President Pro Tem Greg Treat.
It’s time for the governor to end this dispute.
DeGiusti’s ruling was unambiguous. Frankly, appealing the issue to higher courts would be sending good money after bad.
While the $1.5 million the governor has already used on the issue isn’t that high a price for a state government that appropriates about $7 billion a year, it’s an unacceptable cost if it is in fact wasted. Given DeGiusti’s Tuesday ruling, it seems clear that any additional spending on this dispute would be just that.
Dropping the issue will require a humble reevaluation by Stitt of where he is and what his chances for success are. We urge him to end the fight and begin negotiating with the tribes on the new footing of the DeGiusti ruling.