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Editorial: Indian gaming decision now in Interior’s court

Should New Mexico’s Indian casinos retain a level of exclusivity when it comes to legalized gambling?

Should the state continue to get a share of those casinos’ net slot machine win?

Should gamblers be allowed to drink alcohol on the gambling floor?

The answers to those questions could reshape gaming as New Mexico knows it.

And because the state and Pojoaque Pueblo each believe the other side isn’t negotiating in good faith, the answers could be coming from the U.S. Department of the Interior.

The disagreement pits one sovereign against another. The state says it wants to continue the revenue-sharing arrangement under which Pojoaque gives up a percentage of its net slot win in exchange for exclusivity. The tribe says exclusivity is meaningless, the state is trying to take increasingly higher shares that jump from the current 8 percent to 9.5 percent and eventually 10.5 percent. And it says the state won’t even consider a change Pojoaque says it needs to compete with casinos in other states, i.e. serving alcohol on the gambling floors, like they do in Las Vegas.

While most tribes’ revenue-sharing agreements with the state don’t expire until the end of 2037, time is of the essence because Pojoaque’s state compact expires in June of next year.

Also of the essence is serious consideration of New Mexico’s tortured history with alcohol and gambling addiction. This is a state where more than a third of vehicle deaths are alcohol-related (134 of 309 in 2013). Where an estimated 36,000 to 108,000 New Mexicans are addicted to gambling. Where there’s a new public service announcement each administration to fight DWI and a need for groups like a governor-appointed Compulsive Gambling Council and a pueblo-sponsored Responsible Gaming Association of New Mexico. And where the business manager of an impoverished school district can embezzle more than $3.3 million to feed her gambling addiction before committing suicide.

Clearly, New Mexico’s gaming tribes are sovereign nations with a responsibility to their people to become/remain economically viable. And clearly, in New Mexico gambling and booze have serious consequences. So far, the state and tribes have been able to negotiate a compromise. That bet may now be off the table and all eyes should be on Interior to see if it can balance the odds, and in whose favor.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.