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Pojoaque could seek federal gambling compact

SANTA FE – Pojoaque Pueblo has gotten the go-ahead to pursue a gambling compact through federal channels, but the state might not go along.

The U.S. Department of Interior has notified the tribe it is eligible for a process under which the interior secretary could step in and issue a compact, Pojoaque Pueblo Gov. George Rivera told the Journal this week.

The tribe went to the federal agency after its negotiations with the administration of Gov. Susana Martinez collapsed, with each side accusing the other of failing to negotiate in good faith.

The pueblo needs a new compact to keep its casinos north of Santa Fe open after June 2015, when its current compact expires.

Under federal regulations, the tribe will submit a compact proposal to the secretary, and then Martinez and the attorney general will have 60 days to respond once they see it. If the state proposed an alternative compact, a mediator would select one of them, with the secretary having the final say.

A spokesman for Martinez, however, said the state “is considering all of its options,” noting that a federal appeals court ruled in 2007 in a Texas case that the Department of Interior doesn’t have the authority to impose a gambling compact on a state.

“Pojoaque is attempting to cut the state and its Legislature out of compact negotiations, which would undermine the state’s ability to address important concerns. … This is unacceptable,” spokesman Enrique Knell said.

The tribe became eligible for the secretary’s intervention after it sued the state in federal court – alleging bad faith – and a judge threw the lawsuit out in March, citing the state’s sovereign immunity.

A key issue in the stalemate between Pojoaque and the Martinez administration is revenue sharing, the money that gambling tribes pay the state in return for the state’s limiting the number of racetrack casinos and other nontribal gambling operations.

Rivera claims the exclusivity has become meaningless because of the proliferation of gambling. The tribe doesn’t want it, and the state shouldn’t be able to collect revenue from the tribe under a new compact, he contends.

The tribe’s current revenue sharing rate is 8 percent, and the state has proposed increasing it to as much as 10.5 percent under a new agreement, according to Pojoaque.

“The recession has hit and flattened out the gaming market across the country,” and yet the state wants more from tribes – which plow their gambling proceeds back into their communities – even as it gives corporations tax breaks, Rivera complained.

He also said that “by raising sovereign immunity and not negotiating in good faith, the state is basically giving up its seat at the table.”