How strong Indian political power in Oklahoma had grown was about to be demonstrated after popular Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt announced plans in late 2019 for the state to renegotiate its share, not of lottery proceeds, but of tribal casinos revenues. He cited the tribes’ vast wealth from the casinos, as well as two tribes’ request that the compact be updated and improved upon its Jan. 1, 2020 expiration. More importantly, he revealed statistics suggesting that tribal compacts elsewhere channeled several times the percentage of casino money into their state coffers than Oklahoma’s did.
“I’m a member of the Cherokee nation. We are so proud of our tribes and how they are contributing to our roads, health care, and education. As governor I represent what is best for four million Oklahomans. I’m going to negotiate a fair contract that allows the tribes certainty in their industry and also pays the state market rate.”
Numerous Native leaders loudly rejected the position of their co-recipient of the billions of dollars in gambling losses of the working people of Oklahoma, Texas, and elsewhere. They cited their enormous, afore-mentioned financial contributions to local and state causes, beyond their compact percentages. More pointedly, they contended that the 2004 tribal gaming compact required its own renewal after 15 years, unless both the state and the tribes agreed to renegotiate its terms, which the latter said they had not.
Democrat Henry and former Republican Gov. Frank Keating—earlier an opponent of casino gambling in the state—played central roles in a high budget television campaign advocating this position. The Oklahoma Tribal Gaming Commission sponsored it, including during the most dramatic portion of one of the biggest college football games of the year, the 2019 Bedlam game between OU and OSU, both nationally-ranked teams.
The advertisement featured both Henry and Keating criticizing the state, and by direct inference, Gov. Stitt, for refusing to meet with the tribes to discuss the disagreement. Stitt, however, had been attempting discussions with the tribes for months. It was they who refused to parley, unless Oklahoma first agreed to renew its original compact with them.
Observing all of this, one historian spoke for many Oklahomans who lacked the means to televise their views: “When it suits the tribes, they are American citizens and when it is to their advantage they are separate. Pretty good deal for them.”
“What’s good for the tribes, is good for Oklahoma!” Henry insisted in the TV ad.
The Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs (OCPA), an Oklahoma City thinktank, conducted an exhaustive study of the 2004 gambling compact between the state and the tribes. Included was an in depth analysis of how the compact compared to the many others involving states and tribes across America. OCPA concluded that Stitt was correct in his contention that Oklahoma should receive a heftier percentage of the bonanza the tribes were raking in with their state-authorized gambling monopoly:
“The exclusivity fees paid by tribal casino operators to Oklahoma government are much lower than the tax rates paid by commercial casinos in most states and are also lower than the fees paid by comparable tribal casinos in other states. And, compared to other states, a much larger share of slot machines in Oklahoma casinos are not subject to any fee.”
Nonetheless, a series of favorable court decisions in this battle delivered victory to the tribes that could scarcely have been imagined only a few years before.
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Oklahomans Vol 2 :
Statehood - 2020s
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