New Mexico tribes set for expansion

Jun 26, 2007 5:34 AM

A federal official has approved new gambling agreements signed by New Mexico and 10 Indian pueblos.

George Skibine, acting deputy assistant secretary of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, signed the compacts last week, BIA spokeswoman Nedra Darling said.

The new compacts, which extend until 2037, provide the state a larger share of Indian casino profits and tribes a sounder footing as they seek financing for big projects. The compacts also restrict the number of casinos a tribe may have and allow New Mexico to add only one more off-reservation racetrack casino.

While state officials have said the compacts could mean more than $650 million in new revenue for the state’s coffers by 2037, critics say it’s one more example of New Mexico embracing gambling and the problems associated with it.

Guy Clark, executive director of the New Mexico Coalition Against Gambling, said the Interior Department’s approval is "very bad news" for New Mexico.

"It means we’re stuck for 30 years with compacts that have virtually no regulation," he said.

Since the compacts say the tribes can have at least two gambling facilities, Clark said there’s potential for "major expansion of gambling with tribes on tribal land. And there’s nothing to prevent off-reservation casinos in these compacts."

Under the compacts, the maximum revenue sharing payments to the state — currently 8 percent of slot machine proceeds — would increase. A tiered formula would have the most profitable casinos paying 10.75 percent as of 2030.

The new agreements limit each tribe to two gambling facilities, except for Laguna, which may keep the three it has.

Off-reservation racetracks, which are not tribally owned, would be limited to six. The number of slot machines in each would be capped at the current 750, and the daily hours of operation frozen at the current 18.

The compacts were signed by the pueblos of Isleta, Nambe, Ohkay Owingeh, Picuris, Sandia, Santa Ana, San Felipe, Santa Clara, Tesuque and Taos. The Navajo Nation, Mescalero Apache tribe, Jicarilla Apache tribe and the pueblos of Laguna, Acoma and Pojoaque have not signed the compacts.

Any pueblo or tribe signing after July 1 will be required to pay the new revenue sharing rates retroactively.