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Capitol Insider: Gaming Compact Dispute Unresolved

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Tribal gaming continues across the state, even as Governor Kevin Stitt argues the practice became illegal on January 1st. KGOU's Dick Pryor and eCapitol news director Shawn Ashley discuss the latest developments in the ongoing dispute.


Dick Pryor: This is Capitol Insider, your weekly look inside Oklahoma politics, policy and government. I'm Dick Pryor with eCapitol news director Shawn Ashley. Shawn, we turn the calendar to a new year and a major issue at the capitol has gone unresolved. The tribal gaming compacts, which by interpretation of the wording by gaming tribes auto-renewed on January 1st, but which the governor's office asserts have expired.

Shawn Ashley: Yes. This goes all the way back to July when Governor Kevin Stitt first indicated that he hoped to renegotiate the compacts, saying that they expired on January 1st. But the tribes retorted that, no, they would auto renew. And here we are after January 1st, after the start of the new year. That issue has not yet been resolved. The casinos continue to operate.

Dick Pryor: Two tribes which don't have gaming have signed extensions to the compact. But three tribes, the Chickasaws, Choctaws and Cherokees have filed suit for declaratory judgment to decide whether the compacts actually do auto-renew.

Shawn Ashley: That's right. In December, Governor Stitt indicated that without this conflict being resolved, he would like to offer the gaming tribes an extension of the compacts, which he said expired on January 1. Only two small tribes, which, as you said, do not currently have gaming operations, took up those extensions, which were for eight months into August, which might give some indication as to how long the governor's office is thinking it might take to resolve this dispute and to negotiate new compacts. But the bigger issue was on New Year's Eve when the Cherokees, Choctaws and Chickasaws filed a suit in federal court asking for a declaratory judgment regarding that auto-renew language. What they want the court to decide is whether or not the compacts expired or auto-renewed. Well, it'll be some time, of course, before that is decided by the federal court and we'll see what that does.

Dick Pryor: But that would affect about three dozen tribes.

Shawn Ashley: That's correct.

Dick Pryor: Governor Stitt says gaming is now illegal in the state. What is he going to do about it?

Shawn Ashley: That's really not clear. Reporters like myself and others have been asking for weeks as he continued to ratchet up the rhetoric about the January 1st deadline, what he would do when that day came in. As we've said, the casinos are still in operation. You know, the real decision may come later in the month when the gaming tribes make their exclusivity payments to the Oklahoma Tax Commission. The state has to decide whether it's going to accept that money or whether it's not going to accept that money or perhaps maybe just set it aside somewhere. But those payments will be made and the state then has to make some sort of decision.

Dick Pryor: What would the effect be on the state budget and allocations to agencies if they set it aside or don't accept the money?

Shawn Ashley: Oh, that is a very interesting question. Approximately 88 percent of that money goes to common education. The remainder of the 12 percent goes to the General Revenue Fund. So it could impact state government operations for the current fiscal year. But again, they would have to make the decision either not to accept it or set it aside and not allow it to be allocated to those funds. And so far, we haven't heard any indication as to what they might do.

Dick Pryor: If that means there's less money available for education, what can be done about that?

Shawn Ashley: There's really not much that can be done. Right now, the governor does not have the authority just to move around money from one fund to another. Those allocations are set in statute. So they are law and the money has to follow that path. When the legislature comes back into session, if the state has taken the position that it cannot accept the money because the money is coming from what the governor says is illegal activity gaming after the compacts expired, they might have to look at rebalancing the current fiscal year's budget because you're talking about shorting education several million dollars that comes out of the hundred and forty million that's paid each year by the tribes in those exclusivity fees.

Dick Pryor: We are less than two weeks away from the bill filing deadline. Not many bills have been filed so far, but ultimately the number is expected to be large even by Oklahoma legislative standards.

Shawn Ashley: You know, this looks like a very interesting year. Since September, approximately 100 new bills have been filed for consideration in the 2020 legislative session. Lawmakers requested more than 3,000 new pieces of legislation for possible consideration. As we've said before, some of those won't be filed. Some of those requests will take more than one piece of legislation to implement. And they carried over more than 2,300 pieces of legislation. So you're talking about a whole lot of bills. At the same time, that does not include the number of bills that will be involved to implement the fiscal year 2021 budget, which looks to be flat. So there's a lot of bills to come and a lot of work left to do.

Dick Pryor: Thanks, Shawn.

Shawn Ashley: You're very welcome.

Dick Pryor: And, that’s Capitol Insider. If you have questions email us at news@kgou.org or contact us on Twitter @kgounews.  You can also find us online at kgou.org and ecapitol.net.

Until next time, with Shawn Ashley, I’m Dick Pryor.

Dick Pryor has more than 25 years of experience in public service media, having previously served as deputy director, managing editor, news manager, news anchor and host for OETA, Oklahoma’s statewide public TV network. He was named general manager of KGOU Radio in November, 2016.
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