Local legislators share gaming compact views

Four Cleveland County lawmakers support Oklahoma's tribes in their fight against Gov. Kevin Stitt over gambling compacts and if they automatically renew.

The solons, who appeared at a legislative breakfast hosted by the Norman Chamber of Commerce Friday morning, said the battle is one the governor will likely lose.

State Sen. Rob Standridge, R-Norman, was the only lawmaker who didn't side with the tribes or the governor.

House Minority Leader Emily Virgin, D-Norman, said she believes the compacts automatically renew, but is receptive to renegotiating the exclusivity fee paid by the tribes to the state.

"This is an important issue for the legislature to address," she said. "The tribes are right on this and I'm disappointed in the tone of the discussion. There was a time when the tribes would sit down and renegotiate."

That seems unlikely at this point since the tribes filed a lawsuit in federal court asking a judge to declare the compacts automatically renew. At the same time, Stitt's office has hired an outside law firm to defend his position.

Stitt started the controversy by insisting last year that the gambling compacts between the state and tribes do not automatically renew. The tribes contend the compacts are renewed. At one point, Stitt threatened legal action against the tribes, but backed away. Oklahoma is paid an exclusivity fee between 4% and 10% to ensure the tribes are the only entities with gambling operations in the state.

Standridge labeled the issue an "executive decision," adding it is not his place to "second guess the governor."

"I'm not sure how much of a role we [legislature] play," he said.

State Sen. Mary Boren, D-Norman, disagrees with the governor's strong-armed approach to the gambling question.

"He [Stitt] is not appreciative of what the tribal leaders have done in the last 20 years," she said, referencing millions of dollars the tribes have spent on public education, roads, jobs and healthcare.

Tribes routinely present checks to public schools to aid with various projects while strings are often attached to state funding, she said. Lawmakers Merelyn Bell, D-Norman, and Jacob Rosecrants, D-Norman, said they favor the tribes on the compact issue.

The lawmakers also answered questions from audience members about Medicaid, public education, tourism and political division.

The Oklahoma Legislature began its 2020 session Feb. 3.

Tim Farley366-3539tfarley@normantranscript.com

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