Pojoaque Pueblo Indians Keep Casinos Open Despite Lack of Compact with New Mexico
The Pojoaque Pueblo Tribe saw their gambling compact with New Mexico expire on Tuesday. Despite failing to reach a new compact by the deadline, the tribe plans to keep its casino operations active for the time being.
The main difference at the moment is where the tribal gaming authority’s tax money goes. Instead of paying to the New Mexico Treasury, the money is going into escrow.
New Mexico Administration’s Statment
Mike Lonergan, a spokesman for the New Mexico governor, said, “The U.S. attorney has appropriately acknowledged that the Pueblo of Pojoaque–as of midnight tonight–will be violating federal law. This should concern everyone involved, particularly all those tribes who have negotiated in good faith to reach equitable and fair agreements with the state.”
Despite the U.S. Attorney Damon P. Martinez’s recognition of that violation, Lonergan said that administration was surprised that the Pojoaque Pueblo were allowed to keep operating their casinos beyond the deadline. He said the attorney’s decision “to delay action against Pojoaque does leave many questions unanswered.”
Critical of US Attorney
The state of New Mexico believes Martinez does not have the regulatory resources to be taking the action he is, that his office “is ill-equipped to ensure that proper payout percentages are maintained or to monitor gaming machines for tampering.”
Lonergan suggested the void of government oversight caused by the decision to allow two casinos to operate without state regulators present could lead to trouble for those associating with the casino.
He said Damon Martinez’s office offers “no protection to banks, credit card vendors, gambling machine vendors, advertisers, bondholders, and others that are now doing business with an illegal gambling enterprise.”
Buffalo Thunder and Cities of Gold
The Pojoaque Pueblo Tribe owns the Cities of Gold Casino and the Buffalo Thunder Resort & Casino, which are both located north of Santa Fe. The tribe has been in negotiations with the administration of Governor Susana Martinez, but the two sides have stalled. Durign that lull in negotiations, the case has been in the legal system. The Interior Department also has tried to arbitrate the dispute.
Reasons Negotiations Stalled
Several issues cloud the negotiations. The state wanted a restriction on alcohol in the gambling areas, but the Native Americans tribal authority says such a provision hurts their business model, because private casinos are allowed to have alcohol. Also, the Pojoaque Pueblo want to lower the gambling age from 21 to 18, but Gov. Martinez objects.
Tribe’s Public Statement
The main dispute has been over the tribal revenue-sharing payments to the state. The state wants the tribe to pay a higher percentage in the past, Pojoaque Gov. Joseph Talachy said his tribe tried to negotiate with the governor of New Mexico, but they felt bullied in those negotiations. Then they approached the U.S. Attorney’s Office, hoping a third party could help with the negotiations. Talachy said, “We remain ready and willing to continue to negotiate with the state.”
Talachy added that he and his tribe want “a compact that is unfair to the tribe, my people and our community, including the employees we currently have. It’s not a position we’d ever want to be in, but when it comes to the interest of my people and our community, I will fight for what’s right.”
Damon Martinez on the Status Quo
The US Attorney involved in the case, Damon P. Martinez, said he believes the public interesst is best served if the status quo is preserved for the time being. Under the current arrangement, both sides might be spurred to compromise. New Mexico will not be able to receive revenues, while the Pojoaque Pueblo will be able to continue operating. At the same time, the Indian tribe knows they cannot continue forever without a compact. Thus, both sides might feel the pressure to make a deal.
Damon Martinez said, “I recognize the effects that uncompacted gaming by the pueblo could have on the state and on other tribes, both gaming and nongaming. All other gaming tribes are making revenue sharing payments to the State.”
Balancing the Law with the Public Interest
The attorney intimated that he is trying to see both sides of the case. While the rule of law must be preserved, the public interest also must be served. This is one of those circumstances in which both do not coincide, at least in the short term.
Martinez added, “On the other hand, I also recognize that premature cessation of Pojoaque Pueblo gaming could have detrimental impacts on state tourism, and on employment and services for the people of the Pojoaque Valley.“