Seattle Firm Hired To Negotiate Oklahoma Gaming Agreement

In the continuing effort to achieve higher exclusivity rates for Class III casino games that Oklahoma tribes are paying to the state, Gov. Kevin Stitt has now retained Perkins Coie LLP, a Seattle-based law firm, to help negotiate a revised gaming agreement.

The Cherokee, Chickasaw and Choctaw nations are seeking a declaratory judgement that the tribe’s 15-year-old gaming pacts automatically renewed on Wednesday, January 1, 2020, granting them exclusive rights to run casinos in Oklahoma. Gov. Stitt insists that the compacts that expired on New Year’s Day must be renegotiated.

The governor of Oklahoma said he wants the tribes to pay higher rates of exclusivity than the phased rate of 4 to 6 percent that they are currently paying on Class III slot machines in Las Vegas. The tribes also pay 10 percent of the table games ‘ monthly net profit.

To do that, the state would have to revisit tribal gaming compacts, which Perkins Coie is said to help negotiate along with resolving a federal lawsuit brought on December 31, 2019 by the state’s three largest gaming tribes at the federal court in Oklahoma City.

Gov. Stitt said, according to The Oklahoman: “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.”

House Minority Leader Emily Virgin, D-Norman, reportedly criticised the decision by the 28th Governor of the Sooner State to hire the international firm. She 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 by Perkins Coie to the trio of attorneys assigned to the case will range from $430 to $750, while a legal assistant will be paid $390 an hour, according to a copy of the newspaper’s legal services agreement.

Gov. Stitt’s spokeswoman 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.”

According to the governor’s office, the Gaming Enforcement Unit in the Office of Management and Enterprise Services is reported to bankroll the legal services.

The state was initially represented in compromise negotiations by Oklahoma Attorney General Mike, but he withdrew from the initiative on December 17, 2019 to allow the governor’s office to seek direct negotiations with the tribes.

The Oklahoman further notes that Chickasaw Nation officials met with Oklahoma’s Gaming Compliance Unit staff members to address a letter sent late last month to all the state’s gaming tribes stating that they plan to begin auditing their gaming operations on January 2, 2020. According to a spokesperson for Gov. Stitt, the state allegedly stopped performing investigations on the business activity of the casino between Jan. 1, 2018 and Dec. 31, 2018.

Donelle Harder, Gov. Stitt’s spokeswoman, commented on the meeting: “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 there are continuing negotiations with the Chickasaw Tribe.

Oklahoma has 38 tribes recognised by the Federal Government, 31 of which have signed compact gaming.

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

The state received more than $148 million in exclusivity fees from the tribes in fiscal year 2019 alone.