Two Oklahoman tribes suspended by Indian Gaming Association

The Oklahoman Indian Gaming Association (OIGA) has opted to suspend two of its member tribes after they signed compacts offering outlawed games. 

Both the Otoe-Missouria and Comanche Nation tribes had made separate agreements with state Governor Kevin Stitt that would have allowed ‘Class III’ games. This includes sports betting. 

After this, the OIGA board voted to put both of their memberships on hold – in addition to changing its bylaws to allow the suspensions to happen. 

Multiple Oklahoman tribes are part of an ongoing dispute with the state, due to disputes about the validity of their own gaming compacts. 

What happens now?

As a result of the OIGA bylaw changes, both Otoe-Missouria and the Comanche Nation will be suspended from the association until at least the end of the calendar year.

From the beginning of 2021, they will be allowed to push to have their memberships reinstated. However, the board must vote on this. 

OIGA Chairman Matthew Morgan said that the tribes’ suspensions were necessary. 

“This was a difficult decision to make, but it was the correct one. 

“The OIGA 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.”

What caused the uproar? 

In April, Stitt signed compacts with both of the tribes to offer Class III games. Before these come into effect, the US Department of the Interior needs to ratify them. 

The OIGA said at the time that both compacts were based on an erroneous claim of “unilateral state authority”. It was also argued that these would only add fuel to the fire, in terms of the tribes’ disputes with the state. 

At the beginning of May, Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter deemed both compacts to be unlawful. Because they include prohibited state activity, Stitt was ruled to not have the power to sign them. Alongside the issuing of his official opinion, Hunter also requested that David Berhardt – Secretary of the Interior – rejected the two agreements. 

The outlawed games in both agreements were sports betting, eSports betting, poker, roulette, slot machines and blackjack. 

On top of not complying with the Oklahoma State-Tribal Gaming Act, it was also determined that the two compacts went against the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. Hunter explained why.

“Because the Governor lacks authority to ‘enter into’ the agreements he has sent to you, those agreements fail to meet the requirements of IGRA to constitute a valid gaming compact under federal law. 

“How a state enters into a gaming compact with a tribe, including whether the Governor may do so unilaterally in contravention of state statute, is a core concern of the state’s constitutional structure and is, therefore, a matter of state law.”

Clock ticking towards the deadline for ongoing disputes

In Oklahoma, all tribal gaming compacts last for 15 years. The most-recent batch expired, according to Stitt, in January 2020. 

However, the tribes disagree with him. They believe that their compacts were automatically renewed, with the same existing terms as their previous ones. 

Following this, 12 tribes escalated matters and decided to take the Governor to court. 

Federal judges in the Sooner State have given the parties a deadline of 31st May to sort out their differences. 

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