The City Sentinel Staff Report
The Comanche Nation and Otoe-Missouria Tribe released on Wednesday (May 13) a legal memo emphasizing the legality of their compacts in light of the recent opinion from Attorney General Mike Hunter.
In the letter, which was sent to Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt, both tribal Chairmen state they strongly believe their compacts are both legal and in the best interest of their people, their communities and the state of Oklahoma. The tribes also point to numerous other compacts with similar features that have been approved by the Department of the Interior over the last several decades.
“While we respect Attorney General Hunter, his grievances with our compact are not well-founded, as our agreements comply entirely with federal and state laws,” said Comanche Nation Chairman William Nelson, Sr. “We negotiated these legal compacts in good-faith with the state and they should be approved. They reflect a significant modernization in tribal gaming and will bring new jobs and more revenue to our local communities and the state.”
In the memo, the Comanche Nation and Otoe-Missouria Tribes highlight the reasons the compacts are fully consistent with the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) and Oklahoma law.
The Governor has the authority to enter into compacts on behalf of the state
The Oklahoma Supreme Court has ruled that the Governor “has been and continues to be the party responsible for negotiating compacts with the sovereign nations of this state.”
In addition, Oklahoma statute states, “[t]he Governor is authorized to negotiate and enter into cooperative agreements on behalf of this state with federally recognized Indian tribal governments within this state to address issues of mutual interest.”
Compacts under IGRA can, and often do, address forms of gaming that are not currently allowed under state law
It is not a new concept for a tribal–state compact to address forms of gaming that have yet to be explicitly addressed in state legislation, according to the memo. Among several examples from the memo, over the last 20 years, Arizona, California and Massachusetts have all entered into compacts with tribes that address forms of gaming the state legislature had yet to explicitly authorize, and all were routinely approved.
Further, the Department of the Interior has made it clear that an intrastate dispute over the legality of certain games is no reason for disapproval. They cite the 2003 amendments to Wisconsin’s compact with the Sokaogon Chippewa Community, which amended the compact to include forms of Class III gaming that were the subject of an ongoing legal challenge in state court. Notwithstanding the unresolved legal dispute, the amendments were allowed to go into effect.
“It is entirely appropriate for a compact to include provisions regarding forms of gaming that are not yet legal (but may be in the future)…” the memo reads. “Ultimately, the compacts merely address new forms of gaming that were not part of the prior compacts and that would be innovative in the state—a practice that the Department has long approved.”
The Compacts are entirely consistent with state law
The memo emphasizes that the Attorney General’s challenges to the event wagering, gaming machine and house-banked game provisions rely “entirely on a false premise—that the Compacts in and of themselves will authorize event wagering and house-banked gaming and certain gaming machines in the State of Oklahoma. That is not what the compacts do.”
Under the compacts, event wagering can only be conducted “to the extent such wagers are authorized by law.” Therefore, if it is determined event wagering or house-banked table and card games are not authorized by law, the tribes cannot offer those games in their gaming facilities.
“There is no requirement under state or federal law that says every tribe must operate under a universal model compact, and in fact it goes directly against our tribal sovereignty to imply one compact would be best for all tribes,” said Otoe-Missouria Tribe Chairman John R. Shotton.
“As individual, sovereign nations, every tribe in the state has the same prerogative to do what is best for its members, as we did for ours. If the Department were to disapprove these compacts, it would strongly discourage the practice of exercising tribal sovereignty in the future, which would be detrimental to all tribes in our state and set a dangerous precedent nationally.”
The U.S. Department of the Interior has 45 days to review and approve both the Comanche Nation and Otoe-Missouria Tribe compacts and is expected to make a ruling on or before June 8.
Last month, Nelson and Shotton signed, separately, gaming compacts with Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt. The Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association, of which the Comanche were both members, responded separately after the Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association moved to suspend their memberships for the rest of this year.
Each leader issued strong defenses of their rights to act in the interests of their respective members in seeking more economic opportunity.
About the Comanche Nation: The Comanche Nation is located in Southwest Oklahoma, with headquarters located right outside of Lawton. The tribe currently has approximately 17,000 enrolled tribal members with 7,000 residing in the tribal jurisdictional area around the Lawton, Ft. Sill, and surrounding counties.
In the late 1600’s and early 1700’s the tribe migrated from their Shoshone kinsmen onto the northern Plains, ultimately relocating in Oklahoma.
For more information about The Comanche Nation, visit comanchenation.com.
About The Otoe-Missouria Tribe: The Otoe-Missouria Tribe is located in North Central Oklahoma in Red Rock. There are currently 3,288 members enrolled in the tribe with 2,242 living in Oklahoma.
The tribe was relocated to Oklahoma in 1881 from its first reservation on the border of Nebraska and Kansas. For more information about the Otoe-Missouria Tribe, visit omtribe.org.