In the continuing effort to obtain higher exclusivity rates on the Class III casino games that Oklahoma tribes pay to the state, Gov. Kevin Stitt has now hired Seattle-headquartered law firm Perkins Coie LLP to help negotiate a revised gaming compact.

The Cherokee, Chickasaw and Choctaw nations are seeking a declaratory judgment that the tribe’s 15-year-old gaming compacts that give them exclusive rights to operate casinos in Oklahoma automatically renew on Wednesday, Jan 1st, 2020. Gov. Stitt contends the compacts expired on New Year’s Day and therefore must be renegotiated.

Bigger piece of the pie:

Oklahoma’s governor has said that he wants the tribes to pay higher exclusivity rates than the 4 to 6 percent graduated rate that they currently pay on Las Vegas-style Class III slot machines. The tribes also pay 10 percent of the monthly net win from table games.

In order for that to happen, the state would have to revise tribal gaming compacts, something Perkins Coie will reportedly help to negotiate, along with addressing a federal lawsuit filed by the state’s three largest gaming tribes in Oklahoma City federal court on December 31, 2019.

According to The Oklahoman, Gov. Stitt said…

“With Perkins Coie, the State of Oklahoma is well positioned to work towards a compact that protects core public services and advances the future of our great state, its 4 million residents, and gaming tribes.

“Perkins Coie will also respond to and address the Chickasaw, Cherokee, and Choctaw Nations’ federal lawsuit filed on New Year’s Eve. The legal experts at Perkins Coie have successfully represented other states in Indian law controversies, to include the State of New Mexico’s compact dispute in 2015.”

Who’s paying:

The decision by the Sooner State’s 28th governor to hire the international firm was reportedly criticized by House Minority Leader Emily Virgin, D-Norman, who said…

“It’s safe to say this is not going to be cheap.

“I don’t see anywhere in the Governor’s release stating how he plans to pay for this.”

The per-hour rate to be paid to the trio of attorneys assigned to the case by Perkins Coie will range from $430 to $750, while $390 an hour will be paid to a legal assistant, according to a copy of the legal services agreement obtained by the newspaper.

A spokeswoman for Gov. Stitt said…

“We intentionally selected a contract based on an hourly rate for assistance to compact negotiations. The more quickly we can resolve the dispute about compact expiration, the less cost there will be to the state.

The Gaming Compliance Unit in the Office of Management and Enterprise Services will reportedly bankroll the legal services, according to the governor’s office.

The state was initially represented by Oklahoma Attorney General Mike in compact negotiations, but on December 17, 2019, he withdrew from the process so that the governor’s office could pursue negotiations with the tribes directly.

Audit letter meeting with Chickasaw Nation:

The Oklahoman further reports that representatives of the Chickasaw Nation met with staff members of Oklahoma’s Gaming Compliance Unit to discuss a letter sent late last month to all of the state’s gaming tribes advising that it intended to resume auditing their gaming operations on January 2, 2020. The state reportedly stopped conducting audits on the casino’s business activity between Jan. 1, 2018, and Dec. 31, 2018, according to a spokeswoman for Gov. Stitt.

Commenting on the meeting, Donelle Harder, spokeswoman for Gov. Stitt, said…

“Staff and the Gaming Compliance Unit used the scheduled meeting as an opportunity to explain and have a discussion with the Chickasaw Nation about the State’s process for reviewing Class III gaming revenue, and how this process has worked successfully with other Oklahoma tribes.”

Harder added that conversations with the Chickasaw Nation are ongoing.

State benefits from Indian gaming:

Oklahoma has 38 federally-recognized tribes, of which 31 have signed gaming compacts.

The exclusivity fees that guarantee the state will not license commercial casinos have generated $1.6 billion in taxes and revenue share payments and added $9.6 billion to the state’s economy, according to a November 2018 study cited by the American Gaming Association (AGA).

In fiscal year 2019 alone, the state has received over $148 million in exclusivity fees from the tribes.