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US – New Mexico tribe fights to keep five casino compact alive

By - 10 February 2014

The Navajo Nation of New Mexico is battling to keep a five casinos compact proposal with the state of New Mexico intact.

A legislative committee has asked for an amendment to legislation to limit the number of casinos granted to the tribe to three.
The three casinos would be limited to the sites of the tribe’s current two casinos; the Fire Rock Navajo Casino and Northern Edge Navajo Casino, and one Class II gambling facility. It hopes to prevent a new casino project to be built along Interstate 40 west of Albuquerque.
The tribe’s President Ben Shelly said: “At the last committee hearing, several tribal leaders raised concerns on the future locations for the Navajo Nation’s gaming facilities along the I-40 corridor and Albuquerque area. While I respect the recommendations from the other tribes, the Navajo Nation will not agree to any geographic restriction.”
President Shelly claimed any limitation would infringe upon Navajo sovereignty, arguing that it was the Navajo Nation’s right to develop any economic venture on tribal lands.
“During the last hearing, a tribal leader requested that the Navajo Nation Gaming Compact be tabled. We cannot endure further delay,” he added. “We are on a very strict timeline to extend the term of the compact before it expires in 2015. Considering that this legislative session ends in approximately 20 days, it does not give us much time.”
Chair of the Naabik’íyátí Committee’s Gaming Task Force Subcommittee Council Delegate LoRenzo Bates said that a result of concerns brought forth by various New Mexico gaming tribes and by the US Department of the Interior, Naabik’iyátí’ Committee members determined that it was necessary to reopen negotiations to amend the proposed Gaming Compact.

Among the concerns addressed were revenue sharing as it relates to “free play” in casinos, the removal of all references to Class II gaming within the Compact, the removal of internet gaming provisions, contributions to problem gambling programs, and the number of gaming facilities the Nation is allowed to operate within the State of New Mexico, according to Delegate Bates.

One of the subcommittee’s top priorities when negotiating the Compact, said Delegate Bates, was to secure five Class III gaming facilities for the Navajo Nation.

“The state throughout negotiating from the very beginning up until the eleventh hour, wanted the Nation to reduce its [gaming] facilities all the way down to three,” said Delegate Bates. “The gaming task force team stayed firm from day one, all the way up to where we are today.”

According to the term sheet, the Nation will be able to establish a third Class III gaming facility after five years from the date of execution of the Compact, a fourth after 10 years, and a fifth after 15 years. In addition, the Nation is required to have 15,000 enrolled members residing in New Mexico for each additional facility.

Delegate Bates also explained that the Nation was able to lower the percentage of revenue sharing from 10.25 per cent to 10 per cent from years 2015 to 2030, as a result of recent negotiations. Beginning in 2030, the percentage would increase to 10.75 per cent until the expiration of the Compact in 2037.

Delegate Bates reaffirmed the Nation’s position that the negotiated Compact is fair to both the State of New Mexico and the Navajo Nation.

The current Compact, which the Nation signed onto in 2003, is scheduled to expire in June 2015. Along with the Navajo Nation, four other tribes in New Mexico are also a party to the 2001 Compact.

Upon approval by the Committee on Compacts, the proposed Compact will be forwarded to the New MexicoState Legislature for consideration. The legislature, however, cannot offer any further amendments to the Compact.

If approved, the Compact will then be submitted to the US Department of the Interior for final approval, as required by the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.

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