Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt said the courts may have to decide whether tribal gaming compacts expire Jan. 1 and acknowledged that he had met with commercial casino executives and that they had expressed interest in coming to his state.
Stitt spoke Friday during a press conference at the Western Governors Association meeting at the Four Seasons Hotel in Las Vegas. He said negotiating a deal with the tribes is his first priority, rather than bringing commercial gaming to Oklahoma.
However, he didn’t sound an optimistic tone. Any deal with tribes would be part of an effort to generate more revenue for the state.
Oklahoma gaming operates under voter-approved compacts that give tribes the sole right to operate in exchange for state-paid fees of between 4% and 10%. Stitt maintains that the 15-year compacts expire Jan. 1, but the tribes disagree with that assessment and contend the compacts renew automatically.
“From the very beginning, when I started these negotiations six months ago, I asked what is it worth (to the tribes) to operate gaming in our state,” Stitt said. “So far we haven’t had much success in getting them to come to the table to negotiate. We have three weeks left. We are looking at all of our options. We may have to let the courts decide the issue.”
Stitt, a Republican, disagrees with the Oklahoma tribes’ assessment that the compacts last forever.
“We know contract law. Nothing goes on in perpetuity,” Stitt said. “There is tremendous uncertainty, and we’re working through that.”
Before arriving in Las Vegas, Stitt made headlines when he said commercial casino operators were interested in opening properties in the state if new gaming compacts with the tribes couldn’t be reached. He repeated that statement while in Las Vegas but admitted that’s not what he prefers.
“We have talked to a few commercial gamers,” Stiff said. “With our current tribes’ contract we get 4% to 6% on half of the Class III games. Commercial gamers have reached out to me and said we will fly to Oklahoma tomorrow and pay 18%. Just tell us the time and place and we will be there. That is not what I want. I want to negotiate a good deal with our current partners, but they have to come to the table to negotiate.”
Stitt didn’t mention any names of gaming executives or companies he had talked with – most of the major casino operators are headquartered in Las Vegas.
“I have already had a few of the conversations with some of those folks while I was here,” said Stitt, who is a member of the Cherokee Nation, adding that he was proud of his heritage. However, the issue has “everything to do with the casino industry.”
Cherokee Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. said last week that Stitt would risk $150 million a year in fees by allowing commercial gaming in the state.
In a report released earlier this year, the American Gaming Association said Oklahoma’s casino gaming industry supports more than 75,000 jobs statewide and has an annual economic impact of $9.8 billion. Oklahoma has 141 casinos.