Board Violated Open Meetings Act, Tribe Claims

The Pojoaque Pueblo claims the New Mexico Gaming Control Board held a closed-door session to discuss retaliating against it for suing the state for allegedly interfering with its casino operations. The gaming compact between the tribe and the state recently expired but the U.S. Attorney's Office has allowed the pueblo's casinos to remain open.

The 2001 gambling compact between the state of New Mexico and Pojoaque Pueblo expired at the end of June, but both sides still cannot reach a new agreement. The pueblo claims the federal government, not the state, has jurisdiction over its casinos. The tribe has sued Governor Susana Martinez’s administration for allegedly illegal attempts to interfere with its casino operations. Meanwhile the U.S. Attorney’s Office has allowed the pueblo to continue running its casinos.

Additionally, the tribe recently filed a complaint with the state attorney general’s office that, in violation of the Open Meetings Act, on July 15 the Gaming Control Board illegally held a closed-door meeting to discuss “how to retaliate against the vendors and manufacturers who do business with the Pueblo’s gaming operations.” The complaint noted the compact expired before the discussion was held, so the state’s jurisdiction over the tribe’s gambling activity effectively had ended.

After the closed session, the complaint stated, the board announced it had determined the pueblo was operating illegally. It said licenses for vendors doing business with the pueblo would be suspended pending a legal evaluation. Pojoaque Governor Joseph Talachy said the gaming board then sent intimidating letters to the pueblo’s casino vendors. As a result, at least one vendor said he did not want to do business with the pueblo and the state has delayed some license-renewal applications, Talachy said. “They are manipulating our vendors. They won’t come right out and say, ‘We aren’t going to license you if you are doing business with the pueblo.’ They know they can’t assert jurisdiction in Indian Country. It’s an unfair way of trying to shut our casino down as we are planning our case,” he noted.

The Gaming Control Board’s acting executive director, Donovan Lieurance, said the board denied the allegations and is waiting to hear from the state attorney general’s office. Spokesman James Hallinan said the attorney general’s office indeed had determined an investigation into whether an Open Meetings Act violation occurred would be warranted. Violating the act is punishable by a $500 fine, but, Hallinan said, “it is usually more cost-effective and more in line with the spirit of[the Open Meetings Act to ‘enforce’ by promoting compliance through education and assisting public bodies to avoid committing violations before the fact, thereby ensuring uninterrupted public access to open meetings.”

Talachy said even though violating the Open Meetings Act does not result in a serious penalty, he hopes the complaint will expose the state’s “passive aggressive” tactics, and force the board to hold an open meeting regarding issuing vendor licenses.

Oral arguments in the federal lawsuit over who has jurisdiction over the tribe’s casino gambling are scheduled for later this month in Denver.