New Mexico Legislature Mulls Tribal Gaming Compact

Lawmakers in New Mexico are holding hearings on a tribal state gaming compact that is the result of three years of negotiations between Governor Susanna Martinez and the tribes. Senator Clemente Sanchez (l.) says his committee will make a recommendation by mid-March.

The New Mexico legislature has begun discussing a tribal state gaming compact submitted by Governor Susanna Martinez. The compact is the result of three years of negotiations between Martinez and the Navajos, the Mescalero and Jicarilla Apache tribes, and the pueblos of Jemez and Acoma.

The compact would allow up to four new Indian casinos in the next two decades, allow casinos to stay open 24-7 and to allow them to offer credit and other perks to some of their high rollers.

Revenue sharing of casino profits would range from 8.5 percent to 10.75 percent.

Some legislators speaking at a joint committee of both chambers say that the state may already have enough casinos and they fear that more might harm New Mexico’s racetracks.

Rep. Larry Larrañaga asked, “At what point do we reach market saturation?”

This prompted Senator John Arthur Smith to respond, “I submit we already have reached market saturation.”

Casino revenues in the state may have peaked. Last year “net wins,” was $27 million less than the year before, according to the New Mexico Gaming Control Board.

One of the four new casinos allowed by the compact—that of the Jicarilla Apache Nation— is already in the pipeline to open this spring.

The legislature is under the gun to approve a new compact since the existing compacts with tribes such as the Navajo Nation will expire this June.

The chairman of the joint committee, Senator Clemente Sanchez, said she hopes to make a recommendation to the legislature before March 21.

The legislature and the Bureau of Indian Affairs must approve of the compact before it can go into effect.

Jessica Hernandez, the governor’s deputy chief of staff, who led the negotiations, testified last week that the compact would promote a stabile gaming market.

“It’s a very carefully negotiated agreement that balances a lot of different interests,” she said. She noted that the credit-extension provision was included because tribes say they need it to be competitive with out-of-state casinos.

A representative of one tribe, the Jicarilla Apache, said, “If this doesn’t happen, it’s going to put the tribes in a real bind, with hundreds of jobs at stake for Jicarilla and thousands of jobs statewide with the other tribes.”

The compact does not cover nine tribes. Their compacts do not expire until 2037.

The Pojoaque Pueblo’s negotiations with the state broke down last year. It is trying to get a compact through the federal government.

New Mexico’s gaming tribes paid the state almost $16 million last quarter, according to the New Mexico Gaming Control Board.

The Sandia Pueblo’s casino reported the highest net winnings for that quarter: $36 million. The total net winnings of all gaming tribes were $176 million.