Oklahoma voters have reelected Gov. Kevin Stitt (R). It’s an unfavorable result for the state’s vast tribal gaming industry, which backed the Democratic challenger, Joy Hofmeister. The Republican incumbent garnered 55.5% of the vote.
The tribes have quarreled with Stitt over revenue-share payments. The standoff with the Governor’s Office has torpedoed any hope of legalized sports betting in the state in the short term.
Hofmeister gave her opponent a run for his money (literally – Stitt plowed $2 million of his own cash into his campaign). During the campaign, the Democrat focused on Stitt’s plan to divert public money into private schools, and mid-October polls had her edging the race.
Stitt’s victory was helped by a last-minute advertising blitz that linked his opponent to President Joe Biden, according to the Associated Press. Oklahoma’s 77 counties voted against Biden in the 2020 presidential election.
Open to Cooperation
While it’s not the result the tribal gaming industry had hoped for, Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma Chief Gary Batton said in a late statement on Tuesday that he hopes Stitt and the tribes can iron out their differences.
“Although the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma endorsed Gov. Stitt’s opponent, we remain open to cooperating with the administration for the benefit of all Oklahomans,” Batton said.
We hope Gov. Stitt’s second term will be marked by an understanding of the economic, cultural, and social benefits Tribes provide to our state, and that he will agree to work with us on issues affecting all residents,” added Chief Batton. “As always, we seek to focus on the things we can agree on, rather than our differences.”
Despite Stitt’s status as the nation’s first and only Native American governor – he is a citizen of the Cherokee Nation – friction arose between him and the tribes soon after his inauguration in 2009.
Eager to squeeze more money from tribal casinos, the new governor demanded the renegotiation of a model compact, signed by most tribes in 2004. This agreement gave Native American gaming rights in Oklahoma and provided revenue-share payments to the state.
Stitt contended the language of the compact indicated it would expire on Jan. 1, 2020, and lines would need to be redrawn. The tribes argued the compacts were intended to roll over on that date and that negotiations were unnecessary.
Stitt accused tribes of offering Class III gaming illegally when his deadline passed and threatened to open up the state to commercial operators.
A federal court ultimately vindicated the tribes in October 2020. Meanwhile, the Oklahoma Supreme Court nullified compacts Stitt had negotiated with a handful of breakaway tribes.
The judge ruled he had overstepped his authority by offering these tribes sports betting rights because the legislature hadn’t legalized sports betting.
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