SANTA FE, N.M. — As a Democrat, I worry about the growing income inequality in the U.S. Democrats proclaim we help the poor and disenfranchised. We work to protect the middle class.
Truth be told, income inequality is growing quicker in Northern New Mexico and may be further accelerated if Pojoaque Pueblo has its way with the federal government. Pojoaque Pueblo’s gaming compact is up in June 2015.
They are one of five Native governments that were required to negotiate with the governor of New Mexico before the legislative session of 2015. They sued the governor in federal court, claiming her office was not negotiating in good faith, and lost.
Now, under federal law (25 C.F.R. Part 291), Pojoaque Pueblo submitted a proposed class III gaming procedure to the Department of Interior for approval on May 9, 2014. This procedural maneuver by Pojoaque Pueblo will circumvent the State of New Mexico altogether.
These compact agreements are for 25 years and will have long-lasting, negative implications if not done in the best interest of the public, especially the local communities where the casinos reside.
The governor’s office and attorney general’s office received notification of this request on June 17, 2014. They have 60 days to respond. If they do not, this requested compact could be in effect in June 2015.
I will list some of the most alarming details to Pojoaque Pueblo’s request for a new gaming compact. First, they want to change the legal age to gamble from 21 to 18. This fosters addictions at a much younger age. Is this really good for New Mexico?
Secondly, the compact states service of alcohol shall be done only in compliance with Pueblo of Pojoaque Liquor Control Act. This would allow the casinos to serve alcohol on the gaming floor and at gaming tables.
The clear result is that individual gamblers will tend to over-indulge, thus putting more intoxicated drivers on our roads. This, just as New Mexico was rated number one in alcohol-related deaths.
Third, current law does not allow casinos to cash payroll or welfare checks in the casino. Pojoaque Pueblo requests changes to the current law to allow their casino to cash payroll, and social security and welfare checks, more than likely for a fee.
Lastly, they are requesting not to pay any revenue-sharing with the state. New Mexico originally agreed to legalize gambling on Native lands with the idea that revenue-sharing would help combat the social issues associated with “sin” activities.
Allowing the Native governments to have exclusive rights to gaming takes disposable income that New Mexicans would normally spend in restaurants and other entertainment activities that generate income for the state to help pay for social services.
To this end, New Mexico taxes all “sin” activities to help pay for the negative social impacts they place on a community. For example, alcohol and tobacco are taxed heavily. We know, all too well, the high cost that “sin” activities place on our society. Why should we allow one to be excluded from helping to pay for the burden of fixing the issue?
There was an interesting opinion in The New York Times recently. It specifically states how gaming was originally targeted at high rollers but, as gaming expanded, it had to target a different demographic … the middle class and the poor! (opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/06/21/gaming-the-poor/).
The casinos are now using the same marketing techniques used by payday lending, rent-to-own stores, sub-prime credit cards, auto title loans and tax refund anticipation loans that evolved to extract high profits from low-income groups.
I grew up in the Pojoaque community; I have watched the income inequality grow. If Pojoaque Pueblo’s gaming compact request does get approved, I will watch this income inequality grow even more quickly. It will be a sad day for Northern New Mexico.
Let’s hope the governor or the attorney general decide to step up to the plate for New Mexico. Governor Martinez did not give in the first time; let’s hope she continues her commitment to New Mexicans and that Attorney General Gary King stands strong on this issue, as well.
If this gaming compact is accepted, New Mexico will never overcome its dismal record of being last in issues such as education and child well-being. We will also give up any hope of minimizing DWI fatalities.
Please send any comments or concerns you may have in regard to this issue to our congressional delegation and/or to the Department of Interior, Office of Indian Gaming: 1849C Street N.W., MS-3657-MIB, Washington D.C. 20240.
Heather Nordquist is a resident of Santa Fe.