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Other tribes uneasy about proposed deal on Navajo casinos

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SANTA FE – The Navajo Nation’s latest bid for a new gambling compact authorizing three more casinos ran into a barrage of objections Wednesday from other tribes worried about more competition in a stagnant gambling market.

Laguna Pueblo Gov. Richard Luarkie told state lawmakers it would create “an environment of cannibalism” to allow another casino in the Albuquerque area.

Gambling revenue and casino jobs would simply shift, rather than grow, because of the “already saturated market,” Luarkie told the Committee on Compacts.

The committee took testimony on the latest compact proposal from the Navajo Nation, negotiated recently between the tribe and Gov. Susana Martinez, but didn’t take any action on it.

The new proposal would allow the tribe five casinos – it now has two – but phased in over a minimum of 15 years.

The tribe says it hasn’t decided when, or where, to add casinos. But Laguna and Acoma Pueblos, which have casinos along Interstate 40, are concerned that the tribe would put one along that corridor and eat into their business.

Acoma Pueblo Gov. Fred Vallo said the pueblo’s gambling operations would be “severely impacted” by another casino along the interstate.

San Felipe Pueblo Gov. Joseph Sandoval said the tribe’s small operation north of Albuquerque along Interstate 25 also would feel the pinch of another casino.

“Any small market share we have now will evaporate,” he said.

The concerns extended beyond the Albuquerque market; the Jicarilla Apaches said a new Navajo casino in its area would affect its facilities along U.S. 550.

This is the second year the Navajos, whose current compact expires next year, have tried to win the required legislative approval of an agreement that would extend through 2037.

Their 2013 proposal failed to get a vote by the full Legislature last year, and the tribe and Martinez recently made significant changes in the proposal aimed at allaying the concerns of the U.S. Department of Interior – which also must approve it – and state lawmakers.

Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly told the committee the tribe has sunk $200 million into its gambling operations, which employ 950 people, 91 percent of them Navajo. The tribe wants to ensure the long-term health of the casinos, which are “more important than ever before” because of the economy.

Other tribes still negotiating compacts with the state are worried that the Navajo compact would set a precedent.

Pojoaque Pueblo Gov. George Rivera objected to the revenue sharing provisions that would increase what the Navajos pay the state from the current 8 percent to 10.75 percent by 2030.

The 10.75 percent cap is also included in a 2007 compact that currently covers nine tribes.

“That was a good economy, and we’re not in that economy anymore,” Rivera told lawmakers.

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