OKLAHOMA CITY — A federal judge ruled Tuesday that Oklahoma's tribal gaming compacts automatically renewed on Jan. 1, handing a victory to the tribes who sued Gov. Kevin Stitt to renew them.
U.S. District Court Judge Timothy DeGiusti rejected Stitt's argument that the compacts — which define how much of their gambling revenue the tribes must pay to the state and which games are allowed — had expired.
Stitt expressed disappointment at the ruling.
"It confirms my fears, and the fears of many fellow Oklahomans, that the State entered into a poorly negotiated deal and now we must bear the cost of this mistake," Stitt said in a statement. "The federal court determined that the 2004 Gaming Compact autorenewed for 15 years because of an action taken by an agency's unelected board to reissue licenses for gaming at horse racing tracks."
Matthew Morgan, chair of the Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association, and Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. said in separate statements that the court affirmed what the tribes knew.
"We appreciated that the court moved quickly to confirm ... the plain language of our intergovernmental agreements mean what they mean, and here, those words mean our gaming compacts automatically renewed January 1, 2020," Morgan said.
"Everything in our compact now remains the same, and we hope we can move forward and build a relationship built on respect with Gov. Stitt in the future," said Hoskin.
The tribes argued in the lawsuit filed Dec. 31 by the Cherokee, Choctaw and and Chickaw nations and later joined by six other tribes, that a provision in the compacts approved by Oklahoma voters in 2004 allowed for the automatic renewal of the compacts.
That provision says the compact renews automatically if other organizations were authorized to offer electronic gaming, other than pari-mutuel wagering on live horse racing tracks, were approved.
The state argued that only the Legislature could authorize electronic gambling and that the Oklahoma Horse Racing Commission, which approved electronic gaming at the tracks, only issued licenses.
"The Court is not persuaded by this argument and rejects the State's narrow view of 'governmental action,' which is inconsistent with a common understanding of that term," DeGiusti wrote. "The Court finds that these technical definitions are not required by the Compacts and their use would be inconsistent with federal contract principles."
Last week, the Oklahoma State Supreme Court ruled that Stitt overstepped his authority when he reached a casino gambling agreement with two Native American tribes who were not involved in the federal lawsuit.
Under the compacts, tribes pay the state "exclusivity fees" between 4% and 10% on gambling revenue in exchange for the exclusive right to operate casinos. The tribes paid the state about $150 million in exclusivity fees last year, most of it for public schools.