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US – Oklahoma’s casinos stay open despite Governor’s warning

By - 5 January 2020

Oklahoma’s 100-plus tribal casinos remained open as the clock struck midnight on New Year’s Eve, flying in the face of Governor Kevin Stitt’s warning that the gaming compacts expired on January 1 and that casino gambling after that date will be illegal.

Muscogee Principal Chief James Floyd, who operates River Spirit Casino Resort in Tulsa, said defiantly: “Today, on Jan. 1, we continue to honour our commitments to our employees, to our citizens, to our guests, and to the State of Oklahoma by ensuring our operations continue as usual and without disruption.”

Three tribes in Oklahoma have filed a lawsuit against the state’s governor as they look to extend exclusivity at tribal casinos, which should have renewed automatically at the turn of the year for another 15-year term.

The Cherokee, Chickasaw and Choctaw nations claim they have met all conditions for the compacts to renew.

In a letter to Governor Stitt, Cherokee Nation Chief Chuck Hoskin, Chickasaw Nation Gov. Bill Anoatubby and Choctaw Nation Chief Gary Batton said: “For some time, we have tried to establish meaningful intergovernmental engagement regarding our gaming compacts, but you have continued to reject our compacts’ plain terms. Recently, you have gone further, stating allegations against us and threats to our operations.”

The governor instead wants to renegotiate the deal to take a bigger piece of revenue for the state.

The Governor said: “The state of Oklahoma offered an extension, with no strings attached, to all tribes that operate casinos in the state, and my door continues to be open for more tribes to join who are worried about impending uncertainty.”

He has hired Seattle-based Perkins Coie to take on the tribes’ attempt to continue their casino operations without renegotiating their compacts with the state, which the Governor maintains expired on December 31, 2019.

Tax for the state’s tribal casinos is currently set at between four and six per cent on revenue from Class III slot machines and up to 10 per cent on table games. Governor Stitt said he wants that upped to between 20 per cent and 25 per cent in exclusivity fees

Since the compacts were approved in 2004, Oklahoma has seen more than 130 casinos opening in the state, ranging from gas station annexes to resort-style casinos, such as The Winstar World Casino, often touted to be the largest in the world.

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