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Pojoaque’s arguments ignore federal tribal gambling law

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Pojoaque Pueblo, whose gambling compact expires in June of 2015, has had its proposed tribal gambling compact accepted by the Department of Interior.

That doesn’t necessarily mean that the proposed compact will be the final one. The state now has 60 days to submit an alternative compact. A mediator would then select one of them, with the Interior Department having the final word. Whatever the decision of Interior, it is almost certain to be taken to the Supreme Court for final determination.

The main issue in contention is the revenue-sharing. Other major issues are allowing 18-year-olds to gamble on the slots, serving alcohol on the gambling floor amidst the slots, being able to cash welfare checks, public assistance checks and payroll checks, and the total lack of state or federal regulation.

Pojoaque’s proposed compact would require them to pay NO revenue-sharing to the state. It is likely that the state will submit an alternative compact that is pretty much identical to the ones that were signed by most of the other tribes in 2007, which would require that they would start at the 8 percent revenue-sharing that they currently pay and could possibly end up paying as much as 10.5 percent.

For those who don’t remember, Pojoaque lobbied as hard as any of the tribes for the original compacts in 1997, with a revenue-sharing amount of 16 percent, and cheered wildly when the compacts were passed by the state legislature, signed by Governor Johnson, then ratified by the Department of the Interior.

Once the compacts were passed, however, Pojoaque screamed about the unfair revenue-sharing and refused to pay it. They set up roadblocks for a short time and were threatened with closure by the U.S. Attorney to New Mexico, John Kelly. They eventually signed the compacts of 2001, agreeing to pay 8 percent revenue-sharing to the state.

Pojoaque is saying that they shouldn’t have to pay ANY revenue-sharing to the state because they no longer have “exclusivity.” Actually, “exclusivity” is not a legal element in gambling compacts in the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA).

Revenue-sharing also is not approved in IGRA, as well, but who’s paying attention to federal law when it comes to tribal gambling? As long as the states get their revenue-sharing and the tribes have a near monopoly on casino gambling, they ignore the federal law.

If Interior and the Supreme Court approve the Pojoaque compact proposal with NO revenue-sharing, it will turn the whole system of tribal gambling upside down. Tribes across the U.S. will take their states to court to get their revenue-sharing thrown out and chaos will reign.

Some states would probably react by flooding the state with legalized gambling to recoup the lost revenue-sharing, probably bankrupting many tribal casinos.

Other states might take the tack to outlaw all non-Indian gambling, hoping that federal law would prevail and close down the tribal casinos as well. Congress might intervene and produce a new IGRA that clarifies “exclusivity” and “revenue-sharing.”

Kevin Washburn, the undersecretary of Interior, wrote the acceptance of the Pojoaque compact proposal. He said a couple of interesting things. He wrote that the state had the “option” of responding to the Pojoaque proposal, which indicates that Interior is fine with the Pojoaque proposal as it stands.

He also said that one of the requirements of the compact is that it would allow only the type of gambling opportunity available to any citizen or group in the state. Right now, the only groups allowed to have casino-style gambling are the tribes and the tracks. That requirement is almost a direct quote out of IGRA, but still, who’s paying attention to federal law here?

Stop Predatory Gambling New Mexico would love to see tribal gambling go from chaos to collapse, but greed will probably prevail and the casino/government complex will find some way to keep their predatory gambling options open.

The best solution is for government to get out of the predatory gambling business.

Guy C. Clark is chairman of Stop Predatory Gambling New Mexico.

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