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Pojoaque, feds appeal ruling on gambling compact

SANTA FE – The Department of the Interior has joined Pojoaque Pueblo in appealing an Albuquerque federal judge’s ruling in a dispute with Gov. Susana Martinez’s administration over a new state gambling compact for the pueblo.

In October, U.S. District Judge James A. Parker’s decision stopped the Interior Department from approving a compact without the state’s OK. The pueblo and the state have failed to agree on a compact to replace the existing agreement, which expires in mid-2015.

The pueblo went to the Interior Department earlier this year. Negotiations with the state had failed and a lawsuit that Pojoaque filed maintaining the Martinez administration hadn’t negotiated in good faith was thrown out, after the state cited its constitutional immunity against being sued.

Martinez objects to the compact that Pojoaque proposed to Interior, which would stop tribal revenue sharing payments to the state, allow the serving of alcohol in gambling areas and permit lowering the gambling age in the tribe’s casinos from 21 to 18 – all provisions not allowed under New Mexico’s existing gambling compacts with Indian tribes.

Last week, both Pojoaque and federal Interior Secretary Sally Jewell filed notices of appeal of Parker’s October decision, taking the case to the 10th Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals.

A news release Monday from the pueblo said Jewell’s filing “is a strong show of support for the Pueblo in its dispute with the Martinez Administration’s handling of the compact negotiations.”

Gov. Martinez’s office has insisted that gambling compact negotiations should be between the state and the tribes and not dictated by the federal government.

While Parker’s October ruling did block Pojoaque from pursuing its appeal to Interior, the judge said the federal government itself could pursue allegations of bad-faith compact negotiations against the state, acting as the pueblo’s trustee.

Other tribes with compacts expiring after June 2015 are Acoma Pueblo, the Navajo Nation and the Mescalero and Jicarilla Apache tribes.