Once a longshot, tribal Oklahoma sports betting received a major boost from the federal government this week.
The U.S. Department of Interior (DOI) did not reject tribal gaming compacts between the state and the Otoe-Missouria Tribe and Comanche Nation, according to a press release from Gov. Kevin Stitt. The governor announced the signing of the compacts April 21 and the federal agency apparently passed on a decision during a 45-day review period.
The move could pave a path for sports betting in Oklahoma, although Attorney General Mike Hunter still contends the compacts violate state law.
Stitt’s case for Oklahoma sports betting
The governor’s General Counsel submitted to DOI a defense of the controversial choice to include OK sports betting in the compacts. Much of the argument, though, focuses on Oklahoma law permitting horse betting and pari-mutuel wagering.
The 11-page document concludes in part:
Event Wagering is permitted in the form of horse racing, tournaments, and sporting events in Oklahoma by both individual participants and large groups of gamblers. Such event wagering on local, national, and international events is permitted by Oklahoma law.
Denying Tribes the opportunity to engage in event wagering for sports, particularly when certain sports are already the subject of gaming, flies in the face of (the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act) and undermines the objectives for which gaming relations have become a central pillar of tribal-state relations.
Stitt issued a statement this week praising the step forward:
“I am extremely pleased to learn that these new compacts have been deemed approved by the federal government. I appreciate and respect the thoughtful leadership of Chairman Shotton and Chairman Nelson who worked hard to secure fair terms for their citizens, and whose contributions throughout the negotiations ensured a more level playing field and modernized gaming market in Oklahoma.
“With these new gaming compacts, Oklahoma is ushering in a new era of prosperity, opportunity, and partnership for the state and the Tribes.”
Don’t rush to those sportsbooks yet
Looming legal challenges and questions persist about Oklahoma sports betting, however. Those uncertainties mean the Otoe-Missouria and Comanche likely must wait to launch the sportsbooks they sought.
Hunter similarly opposed the compacts upon signing and provided a statement condemning the DOI move:
“The agreements signed today between the governor, the Otoe-Missouria Tribe and the Comanche Nation are not authorized by the state Tribal Gaming Act, Title 3A, Section 261 et. sec. The governor has the authority to negotiate compacts with the tribes on behalf of the state.
“However, only gaming activities authorized by the act may be the subjectof a tribal gaming compact. Sports betting is not a prescribed ‘covered game’ under the act.”
AG not alone in opposition
Hunter sent a letter opposing the compacts to DOI last month. Sports betting in Oklahoma represented just one of his concerns about the documents.
In addition, the leaders of both state legislative chambers joined Hunter in speaking against the legality of the compacts. A joint letter read in part:
“The inclusion of sports betting is one of a number of flaws found in our preliminary review of the documents signed yesterday … We are disappointed Oklahoma’s executive branch made a promise it could not legally keep under current law. Sovereign nations deserve promises Oklahoma can keep.”
Fellow tribes also took action against the Otoe-Missouria and Comanche over the new compacts. The Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association (OIGA) suspended the tribes’ membership for the rest of the calendar year.
Legal issues for OK sports betting
The DOI’s refusal to step in is not the final legal say on Oklahoma sports betting. Multiple matters remain in doubt:
Remember that the following is still pending:
– Gov. Stitt's "motion to clarify" in federal court (asking the judge to decide whether he had the authority to enter in the compacts)
– Legislative leaders' petition to OK Supreme Court (asking them to basically rule the opposite)
— Dillon Richards (@dillonjrichards) June 8, 2020
Even if those issues resolve quickly, tribal sports betting still might not start immediately. There will not be mobile problems to work out, though, as the compact limits wagering in Oklahoma to tribal lands.