The Joint Committee on State-Tribal Relations rejected Gov. Kevin Stitt’s request to allow two gaming compacts with tribal nations. Oklahoma lawmakers unanimously rejected two gaming compacts over concerns the deals could lead to more casinos in Oklahoma County.
After the vote, leaders of the two tribes – United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians and the Kialegee Tribal Town – said they were disappointed that the lawmakers did not give them a chance to speak during the hearing.
Earlier this week, supporters stated that allowing the two tribes to offer gambling in Oklahoma and Logan counties would be economically beneficial for their members and Oklahomans. Neither of the tribes currently operates a casino.
According to an Oklahoma Voice news article, supporters hoped to receive approval from the legislature’s 10-member Joint Committee on State-Tribal Relations. They said it would have helped end a federal lawsuit filed by other Oklahoma tribes challenging the compacts.
Compacts received federal approval but invalidated by state Supreme Court
Members of the committee expressed suspicions that allowing the tribes to build outside their traditional boundaries could set a bad example for the future. They are also worried about increasing the number of Oklahoma casinos.
However, the tribes still can succeed in an ongoing federal lawsuit, regardless of the committee’s vote. Both agreements already got the US Department of the Interior’s necessary federal approval. But the Oklahoma Supreme Court later issued an annulment.
Committee members pointed to AG Gentner Drummond’s letter, which argued that state law required the joint committee to approve compacts before submission to the federal government. General counsel for Gov. Stitt, Trevor Pemberton, said the law does not command a specific order as long as both actions occur.
Tribes feel they are getting different treatment from lawmakers
The two tribes asking for the approval of the gaming compacts are poorer and are not big campaign donors. The tribe officials believe campaign money explains how lawmakers responded to their compacts after those same people waived off legal concerns about other tribes’ tobacco compacts in the state earlier.
According to a post by the OCPA, Jeff Wacoche, assistant chief of the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians, said:
“I think that’s the major role right there. We’re not able to generate these dollars that are able to go to these campaign contributions. The bigger tribes, they always say if you’re not at the table then you’re on the menu. And that’s exactly true. We always seem to be on the menu because we can’t do that because we’re always being held down.”
There are currently around 130 casinos in Oklahoma.
Pemberton noted that casino gambling already exists in Oklahoma County. A subsidiary of the Chickasaw Nation owns and operates a casino at Remington Park.
He also said a tribal casino now works in Oklahoma. Although the area is outside the historic reservation of the tribal owner.