In legal briefs recently filed in Washington, D.C., Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt’s new outside counsel is contending that four tribal gaming compacts he signed in 2020 are legal, based on a U.S. Department of Interior ruling.
Stitt’s attorneys want the lawsuit filed by several Oklahoma tribes to be dismissed. They said although the compacts were signed at the state level, the Secretary of the Interior had 45 days to review them and allowed them to take effect. Therefore, Stitt’s attorneys claim, the compacts went into effect.
The court documents state, “Subsequent state-law decisions about the compact’s validity thus do not present a basis for attacking the Secretary’s approval.”
Stitt signed the compacts with the Otoe-Missouria, the Kialegee Tribal Town, the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians and the Comanche Nation. His lawyers said the four tribes should be allowed to continue to build their casinos, despite the Oklahoma Supreme Court’s ruling that the compacts were invalid since Stitt did not have constitutional standing to negotiate and sign them.
Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association President Matthew Morgan said, “There are some questions there as to that 45-day approval process, but this does feel like a last-minute Hail Mary pass from a losing team.” Morgan noted state courts have ruled against Stitt on this issue numerous times.
“My worry is if the governor is allowed in future matters to go outside of the bounds of his constitutional authority, and the federal government does not have a mechanism or a way to pull those back, we could be left in precarious situations going forward with any compacts,” he said.
Cherokee Nation Attorney General Sara Hill added, “The Oklahoma Supreme Court made it clear that the compacts he’s defending were void a long time ago. I cannot understand why more taxpayer dollars should be used to prop up the actions of the governor when he won’t even accept the judgment of the state’s own courts.”
Another issue is that the compacts Stitt entered into in 2020 allow sports betting, which currently isn’t permitted under state law. Stitt’s attorneys said sports wagering will not be allowed at the tribal casinos until it is legalized by the state legislature. But the provision was included in the compacts to avoid having to amend them if sports betting is allowed in the state in the future.
Commenting on the new filings, the governor’s office said the filings speak for themselves regarding where the governor’s office stands.