2 Indian tribes booted from Oklahoma gaming association

Matthew Morgan is chairman of Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association.

OKLAHOMA CITY — An influential Native American trade association booted two of its members Thursday just days after the tribes struck new gaming compacts with the state.

Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association said it removed the Comanche Nation and Otoe-Missouria Tribe because “of conduct not in the best interest of the association.”

Both tribes will be suspended until at least the end of 2020.

“This was a difficult decision to make, but it was the correct one,” said Matthew Morgan, chairman of the association. “Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association works best when its membership can speak frankly and with the trust that all members are working together to support our industry as a whole.”

The trade group, which promotes sound gaming policies and practices, had counted more than two dozen Oklahoma tribes among its members.

The Otoe-Missouria Tribe is a sovereign nation and negotiated a legal compact with the governor, said the tribe’s chairman John R. Shotton.

Regardless of the opinion of the association, there are not hierarchies of sovereign nations in Indian Country, he said.

“Each tribe has the right to negotiate the best compact available for their tribal government,” Shotton said. “We still support the intentions of the other tribes to fight for the very best compact for their individual governments. I certainly hope as negotiations continue, other tribes won’t be singled out for exercising their tribal sovereignty.”

William Nelson Sr., chair of the Comanche Nation, said it’s unfortunate the association doesn’t respect individual tribal sovereignty to negotiate new compacts. He said the tribe’s constitution requires looking out for the wellbeing of its 17,500 members.

“I believe the hype of United for Oklahoma gets lost when a sovereign nation does indeed practice sovereignty,” he said.

The two tribes have faced criticism for re-negotiating their gaming compacts with Gov. Kevin Stitt last month even as other tribes continue to be embroiled in contentious litigation in federal court over the validity of existing compacts.

Stitt has said Oklahoma will no longer continue to rely on the outdated, one-size-fits-all model for compacts going forward.

“The State will continue to communicate and strengthen relationships directly with each of Oklahoma’s 38-federally recognized tribes instead of through a fragmented association,” said Baylee Lakey, a Stitt spokeswoman.

Stitt has said the new modernized gaming compacts create certainty and clarity around the value of exclusivity; establish competitive market fees that benefit both the tribes and the state; expand gaming in a responsible way that allows the tribes to use new technology and enhancements already available in other parts of the country; and establish clear rules for how each party is to comply with the compact.

Both tribes have said the new compacts are in the best interest of their members, local communities and the state.

The new gaming compacts could allow sports betting for the first time. Both tribes also can offer additional house-banked card games and ante-less games.

The compacts allow the tribes to build casinos off-reservation in exchange for increased revenue payments to the state when those facilities open. The Comanche Nation, for instance, would be allowed to construct a casino in Cleveland County, and the Otoe-Missouria Tribe could build a casino in Payne County.

In exchange, the tribes will pay less to the state than they did under the existing compacts, but will pay a higher revenue share. About 45% of their casino floor must be comprised of Class III games.

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Stecklein is CNHI Oklahoma Capitol Bureau Chief for CNHI News Service publication newspapers. She can be reached at jstecklein@cnhi.com.

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