The Wichita and Affiliated Tribes (WAT) should be exempt from paying casino revenue-share payments to the state of Oklahoma because the state lottery has violated tribal gaming exclusivity.
That’s according to a lawsuit filed this week in a federal court that accuses the state of breaching its compact with tribal operators by offering online and mobile-based second-chance promotions.
The lawsuit argues that because users can participate in the promotions from within sovereign tribal territories, they infringe on the tribes’ exclusive right to offer gaming on their lands.
WAT, which owns the Sugar Creek Casino in Hinton, is seeking damages along with the court’s blessing to cease making payments.
Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt is currently engaged in a dispute with the tribes over the identical “model” compact signed in 2004 by 35 federally recognized tribal groups.
Stitt wants to renegotiate the agreement to mandate a higher percentage of casino revenue-share for the state. Last year, the tribes paid between 4 percent and 10 percent of revenues on slots and table games, depending on the type of games they offer. This amounted to $150 million, which goes into a fund primarily to support education.
But the tribes argue the compact rolled over on the expiration of its first term on 31 December 2019.
A group of the most powerful tribal operators has sued the governor, asking a federal judge to confirm the compacts automatically renew. The judge in that case ordered the state and the tribes to first engage in mediation. But the procedure has been postponed because of the coronavirus.
On the Offensive
In its filing, WAT is also asking for confirmation that the compacts roll over. But it’s adopting a different strategy: one where attack is the best form of defense.
While the majority of tribes are happy to continue making their existing payments because this represents the status quo they support, WAT is threatening to pull the plug on the whole arrangement.
And they may have a point.
When the Iipay Nation of Santa Ysabel attempted to offer online bingo to the people of California, the tribe argued it was legal because all bets were being processed by servers located on their territory.
But they were sued by the State of California and the federal government. Ultimately, a federal court ruled that a bet must be legal both where it is initiated and where it is received.
WAT has simply looked at the situation in reverse.
“Our support for education has not wavered — not the Wichita Tribes, and not the other tribes I’ve talked to. But if the violations of our compact continue, we may have no choice but to redirect our payments to the local schools near us,” Terri Parton, President of the Wichita and Affiliated Tribes, said in a press release.