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This week Oklahoma Secretary of Native American Affairs Lisa Billy stepped down from the governor’s cabinet due to “unnecessary conflict” with the tribes.

Governor Kevin Stitt (R) is immersed in a contentious battle with the state’s tribes concerning their expiring gaming contracts. He is insisting the various Native American groups which operate casinos, sign revised contracts which would significantly increase the percentage of their slot machine and table game win they’re required to share with the government.

Billy didn’t leave without letting the governor know how she felt.

Billy explains her decision in her resignation letter to Stitt.

“It has become increasingly clear you are committed to an unnecessary conflict that poses a real risk of lasting damage to the State-Tribal relationship and to our economy.”

She concluded,

“You have dismissed advice and facts that show the peril of your chosen approach and have remained intent on breaking faith with the Tribes, both by refusing to engage with the compact’s language and, more recently, by suggesting you would displace our Tribal partners with private, out-of-state commercial gaming operators. Your actions have shown that my continuing in service on your cabinet is unnecessary.”

Tribes vs. State

As reported by casino.org, Oklahoma’s federally recognized tribes run dozens of casinos throughout the Sooner State. With their state gaming contracts, they’re permitted to offer guests slot machines and table games. Some of the powerful tribes include the nations of the Cherokee, Choctaw, Muscogee, and Chickasaw.

The gaming contracts, which will expire January 1, have required the tribes to give four to six percent of their total gaming revenue on slots and 10 percent on tables to the state. The slot tax differs based on total win from the terminals.

Stitt thinks those tax figures are much too low. He’s offered new contracts; however, at a starting negotiating tax rate of 25 percent. As their current gaming contracts automatically renew under the present terms, the tribes say it’s all rubbish.

Governor Persistent

After Billy’s resignation, Stitt said his administration

“has been and remains committed to working collaboratively with the Tribes. We regret that we won’t have the wisdom of Lisa Billy’s counsel in that endeavor.”

Last week, Stitt, a member of the Cherokee Nation himself, said he was

“disappointed that the tribes turned our offer down and refused our requests to negotiate new compact terms that better address the parties’ changing needs.”

Stitt’s administration afterward mailed out letters to all gaming tribes on Friday notifying them that audits of their casino operations will restart January 2.

Brandy Manek, director of budget, policy and gaming compliance for the state, said in the letter,

“The objective of the investigation is to determine if the State has received all fees owed from the conduct of covered games pursuant to terms of the Model Tribal Gaming Compact.”

Manek explained, “At the completion of the investigation, the SCA (State Compliance Agency) will forward a written report, including any suspected violations of law or the Model Tribal Gaming Compact, to the Tribal Compliance Agency and the Office of the Governor.”

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