Gov. Kevin Stitt lost a sucker bet against tribal gaming compacts in Oklahoma, spending $1.5 million in legal fees to fight one of the most lucrative industries and employers in the state. As a result of Stitt’s failed action, Oklahoma gets to foot the bill for this governor’s recklessness.
On July 28, federal Chief Justice Timothy DeGiusti ruled against Stitt, saying that the nearly three-dozen compacts between the state and tribes automatically renewed January 1. Stitt’s expensive legal representation argued that the 15-year compacts expired on that date, and without a renegotiation of new compacts, Stitt would declare the tribes’ Class III gaming operations illegal.
by George Lang, opinion writer for Free Press
He might have won, but the Oklahoma Horse Racing Commission (OHRC) violated the letter and spirit of the compacts in October 2019 when it issued a blanket renewal of pari-mutuel horse racing licenses along with approval for electronic gaming at those tracks. The model compact the tribes signed in 2004, which aligns all participating tribes on the same set of rules, specifically prohibited the state from licensing electronic gaming to non-tribal entities.
Sure, Will Rogers Downs in Claremore and Oklahoma City’s Remington Park are operated by the Cherokee and Chickasaw Nations, respectively, but they were owned by outside entities when the compact went into effect. Ergo, the state blew it on a technicality, but Stitt made matters worse when his team argued that the renewal by OHRC did not constitute “governmental action by the state.”
DeGiusti disagreed. I mean, OHRC has a .gov at the end of its website address, and the website itself is emblazoned with the seal for the state of Oklahoma, so it is absolutely possible that Stitt’s argument was built on something akin to cow manure.
Republicans like Stitt traditionally go after Democrats as being “tax and spend liberals,” but just look at this guy. He wasted $2 million in taxpayer money on a drug used to treat lupus, malaria and rheumatoid arthritis but is infamously inefficacious for treating coronavirus; and an additional $1.5 million in legal fees over the gaming compacts. At this point, we can only imagine how much Stitt spent to lure the Tesla Cybertruck plant to Austin, Texas.
Do you know who else cannot abide tribal gaming? President Donald Trump. A 2016 Washington Post report told the story of how Trump, who owned casinos in Atlantic City, waged a legal and public relations war against tribal operations.
In a 1993 interview conducted by the late radio host and fellow racist Don Imus, Trump said, “I think I might have more Indian blood than a lot of the so-called Indians that are trying to open up the reservations.” Trump spent $1 million on a marketing campaign that claimed Native American tribes were under Mafia control and were responsible for cocaine trafficking along the eastern seaboard.
Of course, Trump’s claim that Foxwoods Resort Casino and other northeastern tribal operations were mobbed up is hilarious, given that Trump Tower was built using ready-mix concrete in an era when practically every skyscraper in Manhattan was built with steel. According to the new Netflix documentary Fear City: New York vs. the Mafia, the Genovese and Gambino families controlled the concrete industry when Trump Tower was built, and Trump’s lawyer at the time, Roy Cohn, represented both “Fat Tony” Salerno and Paul Castellano, but I digress.
It is no surprise that an avowed Trump toady like Stitt was wasting state funds to go after tribal gaming in his own state. Stitt, a member of the Cherokee Nation who claimed in his 2018 gubernatorial campaign that he wanted to run Oklahoma like a business, was fighting an industry that, according to the Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association, has an annual economic impact of $7.2 billion for the state.
Stitt’s main argument was that the state was not receiving enough on its “exclusivity fees,” which pay out between 4 and 6 percent of tribal gaming revenues to the state. Stitt argued in a July 2019 column in Tulsa World that most tribal gaming compacts with other states provide 20 to 25 percent in exclusivity fees, and Arkansas voters recently approved four tribal casinos with exclusivity fees starting at 13 percent and topping out at 20 percent.
Hunter declined to support Stitt’s campaign against the tribes, probably because, as a prosecutor, he knows a shakedown when he sees one. I know it is hard to believe that a subprime lender of adjustable rate mortgages (ARMs) to unqualified home buyers would do such a thing, but here we are.
The tribes have said they are willing to negotiate for new exclusivity rates with the state if Stitt will acknowledge the legitimacy of the automatically renewed compact. We will see if Stitt responds with the pugnacity he displayed when refusing to wear the masks that could have prevented him from contracting coronavirus.
So, this is the big question: why did Stitt go after a major Oklahoma industry just six months into his term as governor? If the federal court had ruled in his favor, would Stitt have nullified the compacts and offered Class III gaming licenses to Carl Icahn, who bailed out Trump by purchasing Trump Entertainment Resorts during the 2016 election?
Regardless, Stitt has now stuck the state with a bill for the legal fees incurred from his big, dumb scheme at a time when the state’s economy is suffering and thousands are lining up to receive benefits from the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission (OESC).
By the way, in case Stitt has any future questions about it, the OESC is part of the state government.
Sustain our journalism by becoming a supporter
Oklahoma City Free Press is dedicated to providing high quality journalism that positively impacts our community. Click this linkto support our mission.