Batton: Stitt should rethink tribal negotiations

Choctaw Nation
Gary Batton, Chief

Recently Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt published an op-ed, signaling his intention to open negotiations on the gaming compacts many tribes have with Oklahoma. We oppose Gov. Stitt’s suggestions for a variety of philosophical and economic reasons.

The governor’s op-ed was factually inaccurate in stating our compact does not renew, which does not hold up to legal review, and he seems to be unaware of just how beneficial tribes are to the state.

Tribes in Oklahoma have a nearly $13 billion economic impact to the state. The Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma is a huge tourism driver with 82 percent of our tracked revenue coming from out of state customers.

Unlike other businesses, ours are rooted firmly in southeastern Oklahoma, and we reinvest our profits into Oklahomans, not shareholders. How do we reinvest?

In recent years, we have worked alongside the state to offer free vaccinations to anyone living in our jurisdiction. This year alone, we provided 33,000 flu shots. Our infrastructure projects benefit rural areas where other levels of government don’t invest. Recent projects include walking trails, school parking lots, and over 50 miles of roadway.

Our summer education intervention program reached 3,800 students, tribal and non-tribal, living in 80-plus school districts in southeastern Oklahoma and over 90 percent of students improved their reading and math proficiency. Choctaw Nation Emergency Management responded to many natural disasters, supporting 295 Choctaw Nation tribal members and 44,461 non-members.

This year, we launched Choctaw Community Partner Fund, which awards city and county governments quarterly contributions based on the revenues of the non-gaming businesses we operate within their jurisdictions. The fund has distributed $742,800 to 24 cities and counties.

While I believe Oklahoma’s tribes should be Governor Stitt’s greatest allies in making Oklahoma a Top 10 state, it is difficult to not feel targeted by his recent position on the gaming compact and the state’s passage of HB2667, which increased taxes on our customers and is driving business away from Oklahoma gaming to other states.

The revenue generated from gaming is used to better the lives of all Oklahomans and the communities that we live in. Tribes and the State established the existing compact in good faith as a mutually beneficial partnership, and this compact was approved by the people of Oklahoma. Gov. Stitt’s position lacks understanding of the compact agreement, is factually questionable, and seems devoid of awareness of just how invested and supportive tribes are to Oklahoma.

I am calling on the governor to re-affirm a commitment to a united government-to-government partnership with the tribal nations of Oklahoma, a better understanding of the legalities of the existing compact, and a greater appreciation for how tribes already make substantial investments into the state for the benefit of all its citizens.

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