Kevin Stitt vs. Native American Tribes with The Frontier’s Ben Felder

After coasting on cruise control for his first 10 months in office, Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt recently decided to mix things up – and showcase his political inexperience – by taking on Oklahoma’s Native American tribes, all by himself, in an effort to renegotiate a bigger chunk of tribal gaming revenues for the state.

Considering Native American tribes are A) one of most powerful groups in state, and B) have a heavy and gigantic influence over Oklahoma politics, media and the economy, Stitt’s move has been described as curious by some, and incredibly stupid and politically short-sighted by others.

As a result, we thought it would be fun to have Ben Felder – the former Oklahoman news director turned latest Frontier investigative journalist – on The Lost Ogle Show, presented by Top Golf’s NYE Glow All Out, to discuss the topic. We dived head first into the tribal gaming compact and Stitt’s decision to take on the tribes all by his lonesome. We also talked a bit about local journalism and the time Ben tried to get me to wear a turkey suit on the cover of The Gazette.

Give it a listen!

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44 Responses


  1. Please just go away, Kev.


  2. Give em hell KS. Why would he not pursue a better deal? Giving the tribes exclusive gambling rights was a stupid move in the first place. Do we not want him getting the best deal possible? The tribes have spent a boat load of money on counter advertising this whole deal. I get sick of watching a 3 minute Indian commercial when I only have 1 minute built in on fast forward.


    1. Nothin like a nice racist


      1. Which part is racist snowflake? The part about them spending a boatload on advertising or my hatred of viewing commercials. When stupidity doesn’t have an answer or agree with someone, they always use the racist card. Either get an education or don’t argue.


        1. Your not a racist , your a dumb jerk republican. they have a deal dummy . STitt wants to shore up his failing education budget by using the Native American’s money. His party gives companies tax breaks then wants someone else to pay for it. Or are You too stupid to understand…..most likely. The tribes are worried about this energy company lacky. Just like Fallon.


  3. I’m going to go with “incredibly stupid and politically short-sighted.”

    I doubt that even the Republicans in the legislature are going to support Stitt’s War on Indian Casinos. For some odd reason, the Tribes don’t want to “negotiate” with Stitt while they’re happy with the deal that they already have. Stitt’s response to the tribes of “OK then, get ready to be audited” is hardly likely to generate good will.
    .

    That phrase (stupid and shortsighted) also describes the refusal of Stitt (and Fallin before him) to accept Medicaid expansion in Oklahoma. The reasons given for the refusal vary from:

    “We’re cutting off our nose to spite Obama’s face,” to:

    “But that’s SOCIALISM,” to:

    “We ‘can’t afford’ to pay 10% of the cost of getting health insurance for our low-income citizens.” (“Can’t afford” is weasel words for “everything else has a higher priority.”


    1. +1


  4. Haven’t had a chance to listen yet, but am amazed with the whole gambling compact renewal. First off when you read it you get the impression the person who wrote it either didn’t know what they were doing, or it was written so that there could be litigation when it was time for renewal.

    If hiz honor the governor thought gambling would become illegal in Oklahoma on January 1st, evidently he didn’t see the automatic renewal clause in the document. He also seems to forget this is a treaty with another nation, and the gambling is going on in that nation, out of his jurisdiction.

    Next up his plan to audit all the casinos, which is allowed in the compact, was an especially stupid stunt. Despite the fact the state loves this type of intimidation to its citizens, not so smart to do with another nation.

    Usually the Oklahoma Standard protects big interest, so not sure why he isn’t protecting them. Perhaps they didn’t give enough to his campaign. When our “honorable” attorney general pulls out of the negotiations and throws it back to the Gov, you know some seriously shady stuff is going down.

    The state is used to being the 800lb Gorilla in the room when they negotiate with people a fraction of the size. The Tribal Nation is not afraid of some little monkey and were probably intially amused, and now they are annoyed, which is not what the state needs. A mortgage broker is not exactly experienced in this type of negotiations. A good businessman would have found a skilled negotiator, as opposed to thinking he could do it all himself. Perhaps this is why he left the business world and ran for political office in Oklahoma.

    This goon style negotiations, popular in the Legislature just doesn’t work with negotiations like these. My gut is an increase could have happened, but that ship sailed off when Kevin became like a child throwing a temper tantrum. There needed to be negotiations done in good faith, something that it appears Kevin Stitt is incapable of doing.

    I also am amused when the governor starts wanting to bring the state to the same level of tax collection at the same level that it is collected in other states. That argument always seems to be shot down when anyone wants to increase the Oklahoma Gross Production Tax to the same level it is in other states. But again I’m sure the oil industry cooperates a bit more in the direct funding of our elected officials, as opposed to funding for the state.

    Perhaps Stitt is just modifying the Oklahoma Standard, where there can be a new Compact with lower rates, as long as there are more campaign contributions from the Tribes to the Governor and Legislature. That model seems to work well for other industries who do business in the state and understand the rules. That is the usual Oklahoma public-private business arrangements.

    As usual the state and the citizens are going to get the short end of the grandstanding by its current Governor, who will probably figure a way to spin the whole story in his favor.


    1. I think there’s more to the story. Stitt has been talking to private gaming corporations (who probably saw an opportunity with a brand new politician) that have said they would pay us double or better. So, he probably has engaged their lawyers to try to get their foot in the door.

      What Stitt isn’t taking into account is that all of the income stays in the state with the tribes investing in other businesses and services. If he were to switch to a private gaming corp, the only money that would stay in the state would be the fees they pay.

      Not sure how this will play out, maybe Cal can sound off. But with our state’s history of governors going to prison, I could see a bunch of traps being set.


      1. Looks like the War has started. The Oklahoma Secretary of Native American Affairs resigned today, and she mentioned Governor Jethro’s threat to use out of state commercial gaming operators as one of the reasons.

        https://www.publicradiotulsa.org/post/oklahoma-sec-native-american-affairs-resigns-citing-unnecessary-conflict-over-compacts

        On a positive side this should put Oklahoma in the top ten states hated by Native Americans. Stitt might consider this a campaign promise kept.

        I’m thinking this is only going to get uglier before the new year. Better late than never for damage control.


        1. This will make two blows for the state. The trump tariff war has been a huge blow to agriculture and now let’s alienate the one “constant” the state has been fortunate enough to have the last hundred years or so.
          Why do we keep trying to fix things that are already working just fine?


  5. Government has fucked up the budget and now look to Native Americans to pull their crooked asses out of the fire with teachers Union. Some plan Stitt like the way you run ur business?


  6. There’s only one thing that a master negotiator like Stitt has left — tariffs!


    1. Brilliant.


  7. That winner of the Jethro Bodine lookalike contest is the modern day Andrew Jackson & a Trump wannabe.


  8. tribes should pay more


    1. Why?Concisely with a modicum of sense and reason.


    2. Why? Most legislature members think the rate is fine, I hear very little to back Stitt on this threat.


  9. I don’t have a side in this fight, so I’m just going to sit on the sidelines, watch, and eat some popcorn. I don’t feel either side could be designated the “good” side, but I know the tribes have stepped it up with contributions to local events when Chesapeake, Sandridge, and Devon crashed into the side of tunnel. It is amusing to think that they haven’t paid “their fare share” to our representatives which is why Stitt is attempting to “negotiate” with them now. The tribes’ television commercials aren’t any better. How much are they giving to our prior elected failures Brad Henry and Frank Keating? We have to give them kudos to not include Mary Fail’in with their campaign. Even they have a low approval of her. I remember when he was elected it was spouted that Stitt had a proud Cherokee heritage. Where does that fit the narrative now? Hmmm….


    1. My guess is that although Stitt can boast about tribal membership, he has about as much “Cherokee heritage” as Elizabeth Warren – some, but very damn little.


    2. The tribes “pay” millions to Oklahoman’s to take care of their tribal citizens. Be it $ to public schools, new roads, college educations, or paying millions of dollars to the private sector for medical services for their citizens, the vast majority of the “profits” from these casinos go directly into the Oklahoma economy in some form or fashion. Stitt is being very short sighted. Hopefully, we can finally align all of the Indians throughout Oklahoma politically. That would be one heck of a voting block.


  10. Why do businessmen think strong arm tactics used against weaker parties during normal commerce are effective in the political arena? Doesn’t the imbecile realize that the tribes and other large political donors are the bosses and he’s the hired hand?


    1. CEO’s don’t make very good politicians. They have a hard time seeing themselves as anything other than “The Boss” with policy flowing from the top, down to underlings.

      Collaboration with a co-equal legislative body is unfamiliar territory for them, and they are used to “negotiating” with people with less power – like vendors and individual employees.

      One of Stitt’s first moves as governor was to try to consolidate more power in the governor’s office, and he was largely successful at that. But he didn’t grab nearly enough power to take on all of the state’s Tribal governments (and their citizens) all at once.

      Maybe he will learn something from this episode. Or maybe not.


  11. interesting that the same people that are up in arms against the .gov trying to squeeze some more revenue are the same people voting Dem in 2020 for the free gibs…


    1. Free gibs? Medicaid isn’t free, it’s only red state stupidity keeping Oklahoma from having it covered under the ACA.


    2. As someone who favors the “free gibs” of Medicaid expansion and usually votes Democratic, I find it interesting that the the same people who don’t care whether low-income people have health insurance or not also think it’s cool for the Guv to try to strong-arm the Tribes over a bogus expiration date for their compacts.

      And even threaten to let out-of-state interests start skimming profits from some of Oklahoma’s gambling revenue!

      Other than ViX, does Stitt have any allies in his silly Indian war? Any at all?


  12. I will try not to get in the weeds, but I think there was an easy compromise here:

    Ask the tribes to voluntarily (and it is voluntary) tax Class 2 machines at the same rate as Class 3. Class 2 play an electronic bingo game, and they are engineered to display like a traditional slot machine. They are non-taxable from the beginning of tribal gaming. They are almost only used by tribes as a legal tax avoidance tool. They do not easily adapt to the more modern slot machine styles and the manufacturers would like to stop making them.

    This would raise revenue by at least 25%, IMO. It would let the slot floor become more streamlined and modern.

    Allow dice games (craps). Craps is a dying game. It is a max benefit to legalize it now and NOT at the next renewal in 15 years.

    Allow sports wagering.

    There are good tax rates models from different states that could be negotiated for Oklahoma.

    Nevada has a low rate, has always had a low rate, and makes a ton of money based on the freedom that low rate encourages. Oklahoma should continue to do the same.


    1. I always wondered what the bingo card was for….


  13. I think it would be great to watch these “negotiations” take place. Right now you have Stitt trying to negotiate through press releases and the tribes using paid media. The tribes are the closest thing this state has to the mafia. Good luck with that.


  14. For some perspective from the senate author of the enabling legislation from 2004 read on……or for more fun watch NBA basketball or go to your local casino.

    Back 15 years ago tribal gaming was a mishmash of both legal and illegal games of chance mostly offered in very bad facilities. Horse racing was totally headed to the glue factory with the loss of 10,000 jobs (ranches, tracks, vendors, vets, hay suppliers, etc, etc). The legislature was split about 50/50, with the Democrats in charge by 2 votes in each chamber and we had a governor who was not expected to be governor. All in all a mess from which little was expected.

    Henry was governor, I was leader in the senate and Larry Adair speaker of the house. We agreed on several policies and passed them all. A lottery with money earmarked to education, a dollar a pack increase on smokes with the money earmarked to health care and a solution to save the horse industry and a compact with tribes that would satisfy all parties. All got done and the voters approved all three. Critics think it was easy. It wasn’t.

    Fast forward to now. Lottery has put $800 million into education; tobacco tax has helped build Stephenson Cancer Center plus Hamm diabetes facility, opened Level I trauma centers, etc; and compacts have allowed world class gaming casinos throughout Oklahoma and paid nearly $1.7 billion in direct fees to the state and provided over 80,000 jobs, with benefits, to citizens all over the state especially in rural areas where they are needed most; and the horse industry is thriving with Remington open and providing purses to owners and trainers four times the amount before compacts thanks to slots at tracks.

    Governor Stitt is right to ‘want’ more in the form of a fee increase from the current average of 6.2% but he has been wrong completely in how to go about it because he is a terrible listener, knows almost nothing about the subject, thinks he is the smartest guy in the room even when people like Governor Anoatubby of the Chickasaws are in the room, has lost the services of both Hunter and Billy, won’t pay attention to people like Henry and Scott Meacham who have actually written compacts that work, etc, etc, etc.

    I say all that to say this: For people who criticize those who wrote the original compacts and the enabling legislation and then got 59% of folks in Bible belt Oklahoma to support them, slow down. It wasn’t easy, it has worked far better than expected, it has kept rural Oklahoma afloat and it generates tons of money from outside Oklahoma primarily via bettors from Texas where today there is only one casino in the entire state and it is on the Rio Grande River.

    Should either or both sides want to go to court to solve this standoff they can but the outcome of that is already clear: For so many reasons the tribes will win and that approach will only harden the two sides even more than is the situation today. My advice? Grow up Governor and get your head, instead of your ego, in this game, negotiate a reasonable fee increase – say 10 to 13% – declare victory and go back to what you do best, TALKING about making Oklahoma a top ten state, which it already is in the area of state/tribal relationships no thanks to you.


    1. The real basis of the argument boils down to this; does the compact auto-renew under the same terms or not? As I haven’t actually read the compact (and won’t), as one of the authors, perhaps you’d be kind enough to answer?
      If indeed, the compact does auto-renew, I’d certainly be interested in why it was originally constructed that way? I couldn’t really imagine signing a contract stipulating that, at it’s conclusion, if only one party was agreeable, the contract automatically renewed under the same terms. But then again, Government.


      1. You use compact and contract interchangeably but they are not. Tribal contracting was authorized 20 years before compacts came into vogue. A minor but important distinction.

        More importantly the evergreen provision was included for at least two reasons. One it took two years of intense negotiating to get a compact done that solved the horse racing issue and garnered the support of almost every tribe with the exception of the Sac and Fox out of Stroud. So on the part of nearly everyone exhaustion had set in and we had to then turn to the next problem of garnering support from the citizens in a vote in November 2004. Frankly fifteen years seemed like a long way off and finally the federal law Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988 tilts the negotiating strength to the tribes when it comes to exclusivity gaming. Might be right. Might be wrong but it does. Also there are about 300 plus compacts in America between states and their tribes and each has it’s own wrinkles. Remember you are dealing with about 35 states with tribes, several hundred tribes, many treaties, multiple federal laws and finally Supreme Court cases going back to John Marshall’s days and even he overturned his own earlier ruling when it came to tribal and state rights.

        Your question is important and straight forward. The answer is important but not so straight forward. Thank you and I hope this helped a little.


        1. In that case, it appears to me that this most certainly, is heading towards a courtroom showdown, as it probably should be. I’m confident that it will be some long, drawn out litigation, taking years to wrap up. In the meantime….what? Do the tribes get some sort of temporary order to keep operating while everything plays out? Nasty & expensive.
          Thanks for the info


          1. If the state files yes the tribes will ask for a temporary restraining order BUT I do not think litigation will take years much more likely months at most. Reason? The preponderance of evidence is on the tribal side historically, the other factors…..meaning the law also and the pressure to get the fight OUT of the courts will be even greater than the pressure to take it to court. But what do I know? Probably a bit more than Stitt at least on this issue.


    2. I observed the building of an approximate 12 mile stretch of what appeared to be a foot deep concrete highway built cross country in Kay County in order for the buses carrying the folks from the small towns to the little “hay barn” casino near Tonkawa to avoid going through either Blackwell or Ponca City.
      Ever priced paving your driveway? Negotiate in private? Sure. Let the chips fall, no pun intended. Turn this into the public spectacle Kevin’s done? Appears to mirror donald negotiating the Paris Climate Accord all by himself. If Kevin was the Vietcong he’d be slipping back into the jungle but it appears he’s not that smart.


  15. I just don’t get why the tribes get unfettered access to running the gambling mega machine, in Oklahoma, and don’t have to pay a cent to the cities they ruin. Yes, our town now has a gawdy looking metal tee pee with flashing lights, a buffet, and a smoke shop that pays no taxes. Only a 5% fee to the state. The damage these tribes are doing to small and large towns pale in comparison to their much broadcast pennies they throw (and always televised) at our state . But oh yes, lets add extra taxes to our energy sector, the number one employer in Oklahoma but don’t you dare say anything against the Indians.


    1. Dear JD,

      In your specific case your argument makes sense. However, examine the whole state, then erase all casinos, all jobs, all entertainment, all food services, all contributions tribes make to schools, hospitals, roads, bridges, all hotels, all medical outlets of any kind (a new pharmacy was dedicated yesterday in Ada), all everything and what you have is the tribal world of the 1970s or so UNTIL the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988 was passed by Congress. Oklahoma had to act after that to apply at least some regulations, accountability, fees, auditing authority, etc to our 39 sovereign nations. If we are going to have casinos the compacts of 2004 were well crafted and have delivered far more than was even promised by its drafters. And, BTW, most citizens of this state WANT AND SUPPORT casinos.

      As to your comment about the energy sector my guess you are employed in it as has my family for more than 100 years so I understand what you are saying. However severance taxes in our state are more than competitive with other energy producing states and, as you know, oil and natural gas is at record highs at production levels in America and we are now exporting both. Not trying to argue with you but the reality is Oklahoma is very lucky to have a bunch of tribes above ground and a bunch of energy underneath it.


    2. While I agree with what you said about Indian gaming and municipalities 100%.
      C’mon at least be honest about increased oil taxation comment. They didn’t even restore the GPT to where it was after goving away the farm a few years previous.


      1. Dear MILLWOOD, The amazing thing is that a Republican dominated legislature and a Republican governor raised the GPT AT ALL. The GPT was raised to 7.085% in 1971 without Republican help, was LOWERED easily several times in several ways during the 90s, 2000s and 2010s with their help and finally, under extreme pressure from just about everybody except most of the energy sector they raised it in 2018.

        GPT is always a sensitive and complicated issue at the capitol but with the creation of horizontal drilling and fracking as well as deep drilling, formations of rock and shale sometimes receiving different treatment, etc, etc about the time a lawmaker knows a little about the topic they term out or leave to lobby. Many examples provided upon request……..for a fee. As President Trump would say about movie Home Alone I’m just kidding only I really am.


    3. If it wasn’t for the Casinos Oklahomans would have to spend their Social Security checks on silly things like food, rent, and utilities.
      I’ll root for the Tribes almost every time. You know why. I don’t think they should do the “dove shoot” thing with Senator Military.


  16. Hey Jim Dandy…Just ask the people of towns throughout the state what shape their towns, schools, infrastructure, etc. would be without the tribes contributions and jobs… start with Ada and Tahlequah then work your way to Tulsa (Riverwind and Hard Rock) and OKC (Remington Park). Better yet, go to any tribal offices, hospitals, clinics, casinos, convenience stores, and see how many people have jobs because of the tribes… think about where those employees spend their paychecks (local businesses and restaurants, mortgage payments, property taxes, etc.) Now, tell us again how the tribes don’t contribute enough already to the economy.. this time leave your racism at the door.


    1. ¡BINGO!


    2. +1


  17. While technically he may be negotiating with sovereign nations, their members have “dual citizenship” in that they also vote in local, Oklahoma state and national elections. I don’t understand why he would escalate a fight with his own constituents and his possible voters in these tribes.

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