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Pojoaque Pueblo drops gaming compact fight

SANTA FE — Pojoaque Pueblo leaders have agreed to sign a new gambling compact with New Mexico after years of fighting back against the state’s attempts to increase its share of revenue from the tribe’s casinos.

The pueblo, previously paying an 8 percent share of “net win” from slot machines, will now pay a higher rate, probably starting at 9 percent and ranging up to 10.75 percent over the next two decades.

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A bronze sculpture by former Pojoaque Governor George Rivera stands outside the Buffalo Thunder Resort and Casino. (Eddie Moore/Abuquerque Journal)

Pojoaque’s gambling compact had expired in 2015 and its leaders have refused to sign off on new compacts that other New Mexico tribes agreed to.

In April, a federal appeals court upheld an earlier ruling that required Pojoaque to negotiate a compact with Gov. Susana Martinez’s administration, not the U.S. Interior Department — in effect mandating the pueblo to agree to the state’s terms.

That left that Pojoaque with few options, and it has decided to agree to a compact following a decision this week by the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver against delaying its April mandate. A delay could have given Pojoaque more time to consider an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The pueblo has maintained in its court filings that Gov. Susana Martinez’s administration failed to negotiate in good faith over a new compact.

“We expect this to bring the issue to a close,” said Martinez spokesman Mike Lonergan on Friday. “As we’ve said all along, we’re simply asking that the Pueblo of Pojoaque play by the same rules as other New Mexico gaming tribes.”

Efforts to reach Pojoaque Pueblo Gov. James Talachy for comment Friday were unsuccessful,

During the court fight, the state’s share of slot machine revenues was not the only issue in dispute. Pojoaque wanted to lower its minimum age for gambling from 21 to 18 and to lift state restrictions that ban serving alcohol in gambling areas; prohibit cashing payroll, Social Security or welfare checks at casinos; limit the number of gambling facilities; and set certain personal injury limits for casino customers.

Under federal law, Indian tribes must have state compacts in place to operate their casinos. Pojoaque runs two casinos north of Santa Fe, Buffalo Thunder Resort and Casino, which includes the state’s biggest hotel, and Cities of Gold.

When Pojoaque’s state gambling compact expired in 2015, Damon Martinez, then the U.S. attorney in Albuquerque, declined to take any enforcement action against the pueblo for operating without a compact, pending the outcome of litigation.

The pueblo agreed to operate under terms of its expired compact and put the money it had payed to the state into an escrow account. It was unclear Friday when and how much is now due to the state and whether the pueblo must come up with extra amount to compensate for the higher state share of  slot revenues required under the new compacts that four other tribes agreed to in 2015 and which extend to 2037.

Current acting U.S. Attorney James D. Tierney said Friday that with the litigation closed, Pojoaque has 30 days to meet the requirement to enter into a compact with the state.

“I urge the Pueblo of Pojoaque and the State of New Mexico to reach a mutually acceptable agreement on the status of the Pueblo’s gaming operations before September 1st,” he said in a statement provided by his staff.

The Martinez administration has said previously that New Mexico stands to gain about $6 million a year in shared revenue from gambling operations on Pojoaque land. The revenue would go into the “general fund” for basic state operations.

Nine other New Mexico tribes with gambling operations are operating under a different compact that dates from 2007.

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