Navajos Propose New Gaming Compact

The gaming Navajo Nation-New Mexico gaming compact will expire in June on three casinos (Fire Rock at l.) and tribal leaders recently proposed a new arrangement that Navajo Nation Council Speaker LoRenzo Bates called "fair for our people and for the people of New Mexico." Another New Mexico tribe has also signed a compact with the state.

Navajo Nation leaders recently finalized the terms of a proposed new gambling compact with the state of New Mexico. The tribe’s current contract will expire in June. Navajo Nation Council Speaker Pro Tem LoRenzo Bates said in a statement the months-long negotiations with Governor Susana Martinez’s administration have resulted in a compact that’s “fair for our people and for the people of New Mexico.”

Under the proposed formula, the state annually would receive 2 percent of revenue up to $6 million, and 8.5 percent – 10.75 percent in revenue sharing, based on net winnings and the number of years the 23-year compact has been in place. Navajo casinos generate about $80 million a year in net winnings, therefore the rate of sharing is expected to increase from the current 8 percent to 9 percent for the first three years of the agreement, bringing in an additional $1 million per year, then rise to 10 percent in 2018 and 10.75 percent in 2030.

The Navajos operate casinos near Gallup and Farmington. A third casino near Shiprock offers low-stakes gambling not subject to state regulation.  The tribe also operates a casino in northern Arizona.

In the last legislative session, lawmakers rejected the Navajos’ proposal to open three more casinos over a 15-year period. Under the latest suggested compact, tribes with a population of more than 75,000 would be limited to three casinos and tribes with a population below 75,000 would be limited to two. Tribes that currently have more casinos would be grandfathered in if they agree to the compact.

The Jicarilla Apache tribe in northern New Mexico also has agreed to a compact that would allow it to operate its two casinos for at least 22 more years. Four other tribal compacts also are set to expire, though those tribes could sign on to new terms before the 60-day legislative session starts this month. After the legislature authorizes new compacts, they still must be approved by the U.S. Department of Interior.

Besides the Navajo and Jicarilla Apache tribes, the Mescalero tribe and the Pojoaque and Acoma Pueblos also have compacts expiring in June. Nine other New Mexico tribes operate under compacts that were approved in 2007.

However, the Pojoaque Pueblo has been attempting to bypass the state and go directly to the Interior Department for approval of its new compact. And recently the department joined the Pojoaque Pueblo to appeal U.S. District Judge James A. Parker’s October ruling that stopped the department from approving a compact without the state’s approval. The pueblo and the state have failed to agree on a compact to replace the existing agreement that expires in June 2015. A lawsuit filed by the Pojoaque claiming Martinez’s administration did not negotiate in good faith was thrown out, with the state claiming it could not be sued due to constitutional immunity. 

The Pojoaque have proposed to Interior a compact that would stop tribal revenue sharing payments to the state, allow alcohol to be served in gambling areas and permit lowering the gambling age in the tribe’s casinos from 21 to 18. These provisions are not allowed under New Mexico’s existing gambling compacts with Indian tribes. Martinez’s office has insisted compact negotiations be between the state and the tribes without federal government interference.

The 10th Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals will hear the Pojoaque’s and Interior’s appeal. In a statement, Pojoaque officials said Interior Secretary Sally Jewell’s filing “is a strong show of support for the Pueblo in its dispute with the Martinez administration’s handling of the compact negotiations.”

Dr. Guy C. Clark, chairman of Stop Predatory Gambling New Mexico, said, “A win for Pojoaque would mean that, according to New Mexico tribal gambling compact law, all other gambling tribes in the state could adopt the same tribal gambling compacts, cutting off over $50 million a year in revenue sharing to the state. It is not hard to imagine that nearly all tribes across the U.S. would immediately link up with Interior to sue their respective states to obtain similar compacts, if not immediately, at least when their compacts were due to renew. It is hard to imagine that any rational court would open the door to the chaos and the tsunami of litigation that would result.”

Also in New Mexico, state Rep. Patricia Roybal Caballero from Albuquerque has pre-filed a bill, HB22, stating, “The governor shall not submit to the committee, and the legislature shall not approve, a compact or amendment that provides for a revenue-sharing percentage paid by a tribe to the state that exceeds the corporate income tax rates.”

According to the North American Gaming Almanac, gaming in New Mexico brings in more than $1 billion annually. In 2013, according to the National Indian Gaming Association, tribal gaming nationwide generated more than $30 billion and provided more than 665,000 direct and indirect jobs.