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Pojoaque gambling revenues seized by feds

SANTA FE – More than $10.1 million in gambling revenues generated by Pojoaque Pueblo over a two-year period were seized by the federal government last month.

The money is an unresolved issue left over from a dispute between the pueblo and New Mexico state government over revenue sharing.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation on Feb. 9 took control of a bank account set up to hold a portion of Pojoaque slot machine revenues that would have otherwise gone to the state under a state compact agreement dating from 2005 that expired in 2015. The money was to be distributed after the dispute was resolved, either through negotiations or by court action.

In April 2017, a federal appeals court upheld an earlier ruling that required Pojoaque to negotiate a new compact with Gov. Susana Martinez’s administration, not the U.S. Interior Department – in effect mandating that the pueblo agree to the state’s terms for increased revenue sharing.

The funds in the account – overseen by an independent trustee – were collected between July 1, 2015, the day after the old compact expired, and Oct. 26, 2017, when the pueblo signed a new gaming compact, joining other tribes which had already signed identical agreements.

All of the $10.1 million “are proceeds of illegal gambling, as they consist of eight percent of the net win from Class III gaming that took place on the Pueblo’s land between the expiration of the 2005 compact and the effective date of the 2017 compact,” states a forfeiture complaint filed by U.S. Attorney John Anderson in federal court in Albuquerque on Friday.

“These funds would have been paid to the State as revenue sharing had the 2005 compact been extended,” the complaint says.

Messages left for Pojoaque Gov. Joseph Talachy on his personal cellphone and at his office were not returned Monday. The office of state Gov. Martinez, which fought Pojoaque in court over gambling compact terms, likewise did not respond to a request for comment.

In November, the pueblo filed a petition for declaratory judgment, saying the funds collected during the compact fight should be distributed for the pueblo alone for the general welfare of its people and to promote economic development.

The state’s share of slot machine revenues was not the only issue. Pojoaque wanted to lower its minimum age for gambling and lift state restrictions that ban serving alcohol in gambling areas and prohibit cashing payroll, Social Security or welfare checks at casinos.

In 2015, then-U.S. Attorney Damon Martinez agreed to allow Pojoaque Pueblo to continue its gaming operations without a compact while its dispute with the state played out. One of his conditions was that the pueblo set aside revenues it would have paid the state under the old compact.

Pojoaque Pueblo operates Cities of Gold Casino and Buffalo Thunder Resort & Casino north of Santa Fe.

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