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Tribal Leaders in Oklahoma Want Governor to Concede Gaming Compacts Renew Automatically

KWGS News File photo

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — The leaders of 34 tribal nations in Oklahoma say they're willing to reconsider how much they pay the state for some casino games but that they first want the new governor to change his position on a key provision of the state's gambling compacts with the tribes.

A letter drafted and signed by the tribes' leaders was delivered Thursday to Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt's office. In it, they say they're united in their position that if no agreement can be reached on renegotiating the compacts' terms, the compacts will automatically renew in January for another 15-year term.

"We continue to look forward to a substantive proposal from the state regarding that part of the compact which may be renegotiated," the letter states. "We will consider such a proposal, however, only when the state of Oklahoma affirms the automatic renewal of the compact."

The governor's position has been that the compacts expire at the end of the year, and Stitt wrote an editorial earlier this year indicating he wants to renegotiate the amount of money the state receives under the compacts.

Stitt's spokeswoman, Baylee Lakey, said Thursday that the governor is referring questions about compact details to Attorney General Mike Hunter, who is coordinating a meeting with tribal leaders and will represent the state in negotiations.

A spokesman for Hunter didn't immediately respond to questions about his position on the renewal of the compacts.

Oklahoma's current gambling compacts call for the tribes to pay between 4% and 10% of a casino's net revenue in "exclusivity fees." Those fees generated nearly $139 million in payments to the state last year on roughly $2.3 billion in revenue from games covered under the compacts.

Nearly 60% of Oklahoma voters approved a state question in 2004 that authorized expanded gambling, and nearly all the tribal nations in Oklahoma signed compacts with the state shortly thereafter. Casino gambling is now a booming industry in Oklahoma, with 130 casinos dotting the state, ranging from gas station annexes to resort-style hotel casinos, many of them in border communities.

Without a compact in place, Oklahoma tribes would be unable to offer many games at casinos, including advanced slot machine-style electronic games or card games such as poker and blackjack. Casinos could still feature bingo-style electronic games, which remain popular in Oklahoma and don't require the tribes to pay any fees to the state.