UKB signs gaming compact with Gov. Stitt
BY BRITTNEY BENNETT
OKLAHOMA CITY – Officials with the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians in Oklahoma met with Gov. Kevin Stitt Wednesday, July 1 to sign a 15-year gaming compact that permits the tribe to engage in Class II and Class III gaming in Logan County.
“It is both an honor and privilege to be announcing the signing of this economic venture between the great state of Oklahoma and the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians,” said UKB Chief Joe Bunch. “We thank Governor Kevin Stitt and his administration for this monumental day and for their leadership efforts in this compact.”
Bunch could not be in attendance for the signing due to unforeseen circumstances. Assistant Chief Jamie Thompson was allowed to sign the compact in Bunch’s place per UKB constitution rules.
“This is a monumental day for Keetoowahs. I wanted to thank Governor Stitt and his council that’s worked to put this compact together with our Attorney General Klint Cowan and our council,” said Thompson. “We’re trying to create a win-win situation for all Oklahomans and certainly for our tribal members. We’re looking forward to a long relationship with the state that benefits not only our tribe, but our citizens of the great state of Oklahoma.”
The signing of the compact is a “product of extensive good faith negotiations between the State and the Tribe,” according to the document.
“One year after beginning gaming compact negotiations, the State has entered into its fourth compact that makes way for Oklahoma tribes to innovate and compete in a new, dynamic gaming market and strengthens State-Tribal relationships,” said Gov. Kevin Stitt. “The compact includes a commitment from the State to support the UKB’s pursuit of land for its first gaming location. This will enhance the UKB’s ability to deliver core government services to its 14,300 citizens while expanding economic development opportunities for all Oklahomans in the region.”
The compact allows the UKB to operate facilities offering Class II gaming, such as bingo, and Class III gaming including slot machines and roulette through December 31, 2035.
Agreed upon terms include the United Keetoowah Band paying 18 percent in exclusivity fees on its adjusted net win amounts to the state for “nonhouse-banked card games” and “nonhouse-banked table games.”
For gaming machines, the tribe must pay 12 percent on any adjusted net win amounts up to $300 million, or 13 percent on any amount over $300 million and up to $500 million. The maximum amount the tribe could pay on gaming machines is 15 percent on its adjusted net win amounts over $500 million
“It’s a percentage based on revenue paid to the state in exchange for the exclusivity tribal gaming enjoys in Oklahoma,” said Klint Cowan, UKB attorney general. “We can still do up to 20 percent Class II gaming in a Class III gaming facility and we could do standalone Class II in other locations with no Class III gaming.”
Event betting is not currently part of the compact, but language is included to “revisit” the opportunity at a later date.
The agreement is part of Stitt’s compact renegotiation efforts with tribes in Oklahoma to pay exclusivity fees to the state in exchange for exclusive casino gaming.
His office determined the previous gaming compact expired on Jan. 1, 2020, though that determination is currently in litigation with other tribes in Oklahoma who claim the contracts automatically renewed at lower exclusivity rates.
UKB joins the Comanche Nation, the Otoe-Missouria Tribe and the Kialegee Tribal Town in renegotiating and signing gaming compacts with Stitt.
Notification of the compact was sent to the U.S. Department of the Interior Wednesday. The Secretary has 45 days to approve the agreement under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act for it to take effect and for notice to be published in the Federal Register.
The tribe must also submit a Section 20 application to the Bureau of Indian Affairs to have land in Logan County taken into trust for gaming. If approved, the tribe can begin building and operating a facility that “shall be located within one mile of a state or federal highway or turnpike running through Logan County.”
Bunch relayed the tribe’s excitement about having the opportunity to build a “stronger economy” and expand opportunities for tribal members.
“It is a grand day for Keetoowahs and Native American tribes all over the country. It is a day when one of their own partnered with Oklahoma in building a stronger economy through the avenues of retail, food and beverage, hotel, hospitality and casino operations, all by a signing a Class III compact with the state,” he said. “This compact also presents an opportunity for the UKB to move forward and begin increasing health, education and job opportunities for our tribal members and elders, as well as surrounding communities. After all, we know if communities are doing well, the state is also doing well.”
The agreement does not permit UKB to game on its 2.03-acre parcel in Tahlequah, which is the site of the old Keetoowah Cherokee Casino.
The U.S. Northern District of Oklahoma Court in Tulsa ruled March 24 that the DOI could not take the parcel into trust for the purpose of tribal gaming. The case has since been appealed and is awaiting a ruling by the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver, Colorado.
Earlier this year, the Tenth Circuit overturned a Northern District ruling that denied the UKB 76 acres of land in trust in Tahlequah.
Wednesday's compact signing comes amid the tribe’s 70th year anniversary of receiving its constitution and federal corporate charter.
To read the compact in its entirety, click below.