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Pojoaque will still regulate visitors’ behavior at casino

SANTA FE, N.M. — The Pueblo of Pojoaque is discouraged to see the latest attempt by the state to undermine the government-to-government dialogue.

The state’s release of the draft proposed procedures and subsequent press release are designed to mislead citizens into believing that the absence of state prohibitions on certain activities means the absence of any regulations on the activity at the Pueblo.

The state further misleads the citizens about the state’s overall public policies on gambling in New Mexico. For example, there is no mention that nonprofit organizations, fraternals, clubs and racinos are all permitted to sell and consume alcohol in areas where gaming machines are located or where wagers are placed. But, somehow, it is presumed that such sale in a tribal facility promotes irresponsible behaviors.

The Pueblo has no intention of engaging in “predatory practices,” disregarding the safety of our gaming patrons, or ignoring responsible gaming practices, as suggested by the Governor’s Office.

Instead, we intend to adhere to many of the same policy objectives as contained in the current compacts. We don’t need them in a compact, federal law doesn’t allow them and the state doesn’t want to discuss them.

For the Pueblo, it is important that we stay focused on what can be achieved through our government-to-government relationships and, equally as important, within the parameters established by Congress.

We have expressed repeatedly to Governor Martinez’s lead negotiator and state legislative committees that we must do away with business restrictions. We must be able to compete outside of the local markets. The reality is that tribal gaming is no longer in a climate of growth, rather one of controlled contraction and sustainability.

Tribes within New Mexico have engaged in a path of responsibility for their own economic development, social programs and self-governance, and we must now narrow our focus to providing essential governmental services, tribal programs and economic development in a contracting market.

What Governor Martinez fails to mention is that New Mexico tribes engaged in gaming are creating jobs, far beyond the job growth capable of other New Mexico businesses. In an area such as northern New Mexico, where it is difficult to create any jobs, the Pueblo of Pojoaque is the largest private employer north of Santa Fe.

The Pueblo provides 1,500 New Mexico residents with employment and employment-related benefits. As an employer, the Pueblo pays a total of $43 million in annual payroll and benefits for employees of both the Pueblo’s businesses and tribal government combined. Our gaming/resort businesses alone employ 900 residents, and the payroll and benefits total approximately $30 million.

Our ability to provide jobs, career training and employment-related benefits to the workforce keeps many of these individuals from relying on state assistance, such as unemployment benefits, Medicaid, TANF and food stamps. The Pueblo’s role as an employer is undeniably meaningful to the state’s overall economy.

In a tough economy, I think it is important to recognize that the Pueblo has been successful in an environment where it is very difficult to create employment opportunities for community residents. Tribal gaming in New Mexico is a $740 million industry.

From that gross gaming revenue, the Pueblo of Pojoaque, like all responsible employers, pays wages, benefits and employer taxes, in addition to the revenue share we pay directly to the state’s general fund.

Unlike our non-Indian counterparts, however, every dollar earned from our gaming operations is invested in public purposes – to improve peoples’ lives, Indian and non-Indian alike, in communities all throughout the State of New Mexico.

Rather than say there are no options, the Pueblo of Pojoaque has persevered in an area where the state contributes very little from the vast amount of taxes collected from residents (including from the tribes through revenue-sharing).

Tribes have inherent sovereign responsibility for and authority over both their members and their territory, including the right to own, establish and regulate businesses on tribal lands. We intend to stay focused on preserving our ability to continue improving the economic opportunities for our members, their families, residents and our neighbors.

The Pueblo of Pojoaque is a federally recognized Indian Tribe and owner of the Buffalo Thunder Casino & Resort.