New Mexico Senate passes tribal gaming compact

SANTA FE - On the evening of March 11, Senate Joint Resolution 19 passed the New Mexico Senate by a vote of 35-7.

For more than a month, Navajo leaders lobbied state legislators for support of the gaming compact. On Feb. 28, the Committee on Compacts passed the compact by a vote of 15-1.

Passing the Senate was the second hurdle for the compact. Three more remain: the House of Representatives, Gov. Susana Martinez and the U.S. Department of Interior.

Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly praised the state legislators, along with Gov. Martinez and the tribes for working together to get the gaming compact passed in the Senate.

"I am very pleased with the Senate vote this afternoon and would like to thank the New Mexico State Senate for your support," Shelly said. "This is a great day for the Navajo Nation."

The president thanked all the negotiators for their time and effort in crafting a compact that was agreeable to all.

"Together, we have produced a gaming compact that is fair, reasonable and will continue to benefit all of us, in the form of jobs and revenue for the tribes and state. The compact now moves to the House for vote and I respectfully ask for their support," Shelly said.

Sponsored by Sen. Clemente Sanchez (D-Grants), the gaming compact was for five tribes - the Navajo Nation, Jicarilla Apache, Mescalero Apache, Pueblo of Acoma and Pueblo of Jemez - that have gaming compacts expiring on June 30, 2015.

Another tribe, the Pueblo of Pojoaque, also has a gaming compact expiring on June 30. However, Pojoaque is currently in litigation to pass their compact through action by the Interior Department.

During the 2014 legislative session, the Navajo Nation stepped out on its own to negotiate a gaming compact with the state, but was unsuccessful. The Navajo gaming compact passed the Committee on Compacts and the House of Representatives, but died on the Senate floor by a 10-31 vote.

Other tribes were in opposition of the Navajo gaming compact because they believed it would be used as a template for future compacts. Since then, the Navajo Nation sat down at the negotiation table with the four other tribes that signed on to the 2015 compact and worked out differences before presenting their compact to the state.

Sanchez said the compact prevents the tribes from having to close their gaming facilities in June and suffer a loss of jobs and revenue for their respective nations.

"Tribal gaming currently generates about $70 million a year in direct payments to the state. That figure does not include the spinoff economic activity generated by increased employment and tourism," Sanchez said.

Revenue to the state will grow to $77 million in 2019. Additionally, beginning July 1, 2015, the Navajo Nation, Acoma and Mescalero will begin paying a higher revenue sharing rate than what is currently being paid.

New provisions include state operated horse track casinos that will affect the revenue sharing agreement between the tribes and the state.

Sanchez said if tribes agreed to allow state horse track casinos to expand beyond six, or increase the number of gaming machines and the hours of operation, the tribes would no longer have to make revenue sharing payments to the state.

Other provisions in the agreement mandate that the state can better enforce the arbitration provisions of the compact. Tribes also agreed to participate in the state self-exclusion program and report information on how money is spent for problem gambling programs.

A new development in the compact allows tribal casinos to remain open 24 hours a day, an effort designed to attract wealthy, out-of-state gamblers. Tribes will also have more flexibility in providing complementary rooms and food.

High roller gamblers who qualify and meet income guidelines and cash balances in their bank accounts will also be able to use a marker system for gambling.

The House will discuss the gaming compact when it is introduced to the floor this week.

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