As he continues to push for renegotiation of the state of Oklahoma's gaming compacts with tribal nations, Governor Kevin Stitt is asking for public support. At a press conference on Thursday, Stitt asked Oklahomans to stand with him on the issue to get a "good deal" done for Oklahoma. No negotiations have occurred and the governor's office and tribal leaders have not agreed on whether the compacts expire on January 1, 2020, as the governor contends. KGOU's Dick Pryor and eCapitol's Shawn Ashley discuss the latest developments and more.
Dick Pryor: This is Capitol Insider, your weekly look inside Oklahoma politics, policy and government. I'm Dick Pryor with the eCapitol news director Shawn Ashley. Shawn, Governor Kevin State continues to push for increasing the exclusivity rate fees that tribes pay the state under the gaming compacts that have been in place for almost 15 years.
The governor thinks those fees should go up considerably. How is he justifying his stance?
Shawn Ashley: Well, in a press conference on Thursday, the governor did not go into great detail about what his plan is. If there were compact negotiations, what he did point out, however, is that in other states, tribes pay a higher rate in order to operate their games. He pointed to Connecticut and New York, for example, which have very high rates. Representatives of the tribes, however, point out that those are the outliers, that Oklahoma's rates are more or less in line with about 90 percent or more of the tribal compacts across the country.
Dick Pryor: One of the issues still to be determined is whether the compacts are even subject to renegotiation. The governor says they expire January 1st. But tribal leaders disagree.
Shawn Ashley: Yeah, that was an interesting discussion because during the governor's press conference, he displayed part of the model compact language, which states that the compact shall have a term which will expire on January 1, 2020. Steve Greetham, the representative for the Chickasaw Nation, their senior counsel, pointed out that that same language also says the compact shall automatically renew for successive additional 15-year terms when certain conditions are met. And it's the language between those two terms that are the conditions. And that is whether electronic games continue to operate at horse racing tracks. And the Horse Racing Commission in October approved that at three tracks in the state of Oklahoma.
Dick Pryor: If the compacts were to be renegotiated, what would the position of the tribes be regarding the fee structure?
Shawn Ashley: Well, Matthew Morgan with the Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association said they're willing to talk about that rate structure, but under federal law, they can't simply just agree to a fee increase. There has to be some benefit for them. And so there's talk about whether that might be sports betting or online gaming or something of that nature. Both Morgan and Greetham said they are willing to talk about those rates, but there has to be an agreement first that the compacts do automatically renew and then what the benefit would be.
Dick Pryor: At his press conference on Thursday, Governor Stitt asked for Oklahomans to stand with him on this issue. What does he mean by that?
Shawn Ashley: Well, I think what he is doing is what many public officials often do, and that is calling on the public to express support for government officials’ particular viewpoint in this case. He wants individuals and business people throughout the state of Oklahoma to let the tribes know that they, too, might like to see an increase in those exclusivity rates. You know, we've seen other officials do this over time. Governor Keating did it in order to win approval of his individual income tax cut, the first cut of that tax in 50 years when it was approved. So we know that kind of influence in Oklahoma can have an impact.
Dick Pryor: The state Office of Management and Enterprise Services provides various information technology services to state agencies. Now, this includes hardware, software and I.T. and now OMES is increasing their fees for their services. This is going to affect the budget requests that agencies submit to the legislature.
Shawn Ashley: Yes, we've been seeing this in a series of public safety and judiciary budget requests before two subcommittees at the state Capitol. Take, for example, the Board of Corrections, which is asking for eleven point one million dollars in additional funding. Four million dollars of that alone is for additional I.T. caused as a result of these rate increases. This is causing some consternation for the Board of Corrections and for those appropriations subcommittees. Senator Adam Pugh, who chairs the Senate side of that subcommittee, pointed out that you have a situation here where one executive branch agency is essentially telling the legislature how much more money it's going to have to appropriate to another executive branch agency. And Senator Pugh said he believed that was totally inappropriate.
Dick Pryor: All right, Shawn, thanks.
Shawn Ashley: You're very welcome.
Dick Pryor: That's Capitol Insider. If you have questions, e-mail us at NEWS @ kgou.org, or contact us on Twitter, @ KGOU News. You can also find us online at kgou.org and ecapitol.net. And you can hear more of our conversation on the Capitol Insider Extra podcast on Apple Podcast and Spotify. Until next time with Shawn Ashley, I’m Dick Pryor.