Settling differences:

August 14, 2001 1:26 AM
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The majority of New Mexico’s Indian tribes have agreed to pay the state $91 million in disputed gambling revenues, clearing the way for new compacts.

Attorney Gen. Patricia Madrid announced in Santa Fe last Thursday that 10 of the 12 state tribes agreed to a settlement under terms of a 1997 gambling law. The Mescalero Apache Tribe and Pojoaque Pueblo were not part of the agreement.

A settlement of the Indian casino issue allows for expansion of gaming operations at horse-racing tracks across New Mexico. Tracks are not permitted to add more slot machines once the Interior Department approves the new tribal-state compacts.

The agreement was necessary before the tribes could sign a new 14-year compact that was approved by the Legislature earlier this year. The tribes were after the new compacts to reduce the share of casino proceeds they must pay the state.

“Settlement is a matter of compromise and balancing of interests,” Madrid said. “I believe this settlement is good for the state, including the tribes, and achieves the objectives of the Legislature. “Today, we can move forward together, putting this controversy behind us.”

The $91 million will be held in a court-supervised account until the new tribal state gambling compacts are approved by the federal government. The money will be returned to the tribes if the proposed compact is rejected.

Under the 1997 law, tribes had to pay 16 percent of their slot machine proceeds to the state. However, tribes argued the revenue requirement was illegally high under a federal law governing Indian gambling. Some tribes made initial payments and stopped, while others never made any.

The Legislature sought to end the gambling fight last March by approving a new compact that will lower the payment rate to a maximum of eight percent. The new compacts, however, could be signed only after the State Attorney General certified that each tribe had paid, or arranged to pay any money it owed the state.

Sara Misquez, president of the Mescalero tribe, said last Wednesday that they would continue to operate under terms of a 1997 compact, and would place the disputed casino payments in escrow until the revenue issue was resolved in court or through arbitration.

A settlement of the Indian casino issue also allows for expansion of gaming operations at horse-racing tracks across New Mexico. Tracks are not permitted to add more slot machines once the Interior Department approves the new tribal-state compacts.