Tribal gaming negotiations got off to a rough start last month. Now, Gov. Stitt is responding to pushback and explains why he thinks tribes should pay more for the exclusive rights to operate casino games in Oklahoma.
Pryor: This is Capitol Insider, your weekly look inside Oklahoma politics and policy. I'm Dick Pryor with eCapitol News Director Shawn Ashley. Last time we talked to Matthew Morgan the chair of the Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association about the gaming compacts in Oklahoma. Now we talk to Gov. Stitt to find out his take on the compacts. Good to have you with us.
Stitt: It's my pleasure. It's great to be with you this morning.
Pryor: You've proposed renegotiating your agreements which allow tribes to operate casino games in exchange for giving the state a percentage of their revenue through exclusivity fees. Many tribal leaders have already pushed back. What is your next step?
Stitt: Well, you know, I've personally sat down and met with all the tribal leaders, the tribes. I'm a member of Cherokee Nation. You know I think we have a very uniqueness in our state because we have the tribes, so I love what they're doing. This has everything to do with the exclusive rights to operate gaming, which is a large industry in our state, and what is that exclusivity fee worth to the state of Oklahoma? What's market? What do other states charge? I believe that we have a 15 year compact, and it's my job...And I have the job as governor of Oklahoma, for all four million Oklahomans, to look at all contracts. And so that was my point. I said, "Hey guys we need to sit down and have a fair deal. You've had it for 15 years. Everything's developed now. I think it's wildly more successful than they anticipated. What was fair 15 years ago may be different today."
Ashley: It sounds very much like you're arguing that those exclusivity fees should be increased. Is that the case?
Stitt: One hundred percent. Yeah. When I look across the 50 states and what other states have with their tribal partners and what commercial gaming is in their state the fees are much much higher than what we get, and so that's all I'm saying. But their point of view...They're going to be arguing for their constituents and they don't want anything to change. That's why they're saying it auto-renews. But, again, this doesn't have to be adversarial. I told them I love the tribes, their partnership with the state. They do fantastic things in our state. That's going to continue. This has everything to do with just the right to have a monopoly and operate gaming, which is a big industry in the state of Oklahoma.
Ashley: One of the early concerns I heard about your move in this direction was that you announced the plan in an op-ed appearing in the Tulsa World, rather than first notifying tribes. Have you sort of smoothed over those hard feelings and changed perhaps the way you're working with the tribes now?
Stitt: Well, just so everybody knows...All of Oklahoma, it's very important because there could be some misinformation. I personally called the five biggest tribes and talked to them on the phone. I talked to four of them and I left one voicemail to let them know that my letter was coming. So my letter went to the tribes. They received my letter on that Monday, and then the op-ed was also on Monday but I personally called every tribe member on Saturday and Sunday.
Ashley: Not too long ago a significant number of those tribes sent a letter to you sort of asking to hear what your proposal is. When do you plan on putting something before them?
Stitt: So, very very quickly. We're sending a letter back to them asking them to designate three to five representatives, and we'll get a mediator involved to sit down and start talking about what the state's position is, what the tribes position. And then it's my belief...We've got to make a deal. I'm getting the very best mediator in the country to come help us with this, with this issue and look forward to some great dialogue and coming up with a win-win and something that will help sustain their revenue sources for the next 15 years and something that would give the citizens of Oklahoma a market deal.
Ashley: Might a win-win include the addition of sports betting to the gaming compacts in Oklahoma?
Stitt: You know, everything's on the table at this point. Sports betting is something we can certainly talk about, but it's also something that, you know, I would need to talk to the legislature about to see if we want to do that, to the citizens of Oklahoma. We could also do sports betting through the lottery system. It doesn't have to be through this compact. So we can... Everything's on the table. I'm really...I've got a great relationship with the tribes, but my priorities are to think about what's best for all four million Oklahomans. And the tribes are part of Oklahoma, but I also have to think about what's best for education, health care infrastructure, and all the citizens of Oklahoma.
Pryor: What's your deadline for getting the gaming compact issue resolved?
Stitt: Well Dec. 31 of this year would be would be the deadline. I'm going to have to...We'll have to back that up, and we don't want to do any kind of things in the courts or anything like that. So we're going to start those negotiations this month or early September.
Pryor: Gov. Kevin Stitt, it's good to visit with you. Thank you.
Stitt: Thank you so much.
Pryor: And that's Capitol Insider. Listen next time for part two of our conversation with Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt. Until next time, with Shawn Ashley, I'm Dick Pryor.