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Sports betting plan does little to thaw Oklahoma governor, tribes chilly relationship

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Kim Jarrett

(The Center Square) - In the week since Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt announced a plan to implement sports betting at the state's tribal casinos, new issues are showing just how chilly the governor's relationship with the state's Native American tribes is. 

The latest divide is over tribal license plates. A member of the Otoe-Missouria was ticketed by an Oklahoma state trooper on Wednesday for having a tribal tag but living outside of the tribe's jurisdiction, according to information posted on the tribe's website. 

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"After over 20 years of cooperation between the State and Tribes regarding vehicle tag registration, it appears the State has altered its position of understanding concerning tribal tags,” Otoe-Missouria Chairman John Shotton said. “This change was made without notice or consultation with all Tribes that operate vehicle tag registration. We are concerned about this change and are reviewing all legal options to address this issue."

Other tribes weighed in, with Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. specifically naming Stitt in a Facebook post. 

"Governor Stitt’s latest attack on tribal sovereignty will not be tolerated," Hoskin said in the post. "Our sovereign right to issue motor vehicle tags, expressed in our vehicle tags compact with the state of Oklahoma, extends statewide. The Governor, or perhaps his Native American Liaison, might try reading the compact."

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It's the latest in a long line of disputes between Stitt and the tribes that have also put him at odds with the Legislature. The governor sued House Speaker Charles McCall and Senate Pro Tem Greg Treat after the legislative bodies overrode his veto of tribal contracts dealing with motor vehicle registration, licensing, and tobacco sales earlier this year. 

In 2021, the tribes sued Stitt in federal court over his signing of four tribal compacts with legislative approval. Attorney General Gentner Drummond took over the state's defense this year after the governor racked up more than $600,000 in legal bills. Drummond called Stitt's actions "unlawful" in a letter. 

"The four tribal gaming compacts you signed were invalid from the start because you did not have the approval or authorization from the Oklahoma Legislature to enter the gaming compacts," Drummond said.

The dispute over license plates comes a week after the governor proposed a plan to legalize sports betting in the state. His plan would require updates to the gaming compacts with the tribes. However, the tribes were not consulted, according to the Oklahoma Gaming Association.

"The members of the OIGA have been preparing to receive an offer from the State on sports betting for the past couple of years, and while we appreciate Gov. Stitt finally joining the sports betting conversation, to date he has not engaged in meaningful and respectful government-to-government discussion with tribes," the association said in a Facebook post. "We remain hopeful that he is committed to moving forward in a productive manner in accord with established law and process, which would include working with the Oklahoma Legislature to offer a compact supplement to tribes within the State-Tribal Gaming Act construct that protects the tribes’ 'substantial gaming exclusivity.'" To approach it otherwise is simply to invite failure."