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Gov. asks court to reject Fort Sill Apaches casino bid

Gov. Susana Martinez told the state Supreme Court on Wednesday that because the Fort Sill Apaches lack federal approval for casino gambling on their New Mexico reservation, she is not required to sign a compact with them.

The Martinez administration asked the Supreme Court to reject the tribe’s request, filed last month, to order the governor to sign gambling agreements.

Lawyers for Martinez said in the response filed Wednesday that the tribe had “overstated and misrepresented” the effects of the governor’s refusal to sign anything now.

The Fort Sill Apaches – who have had an ongoing dispute with Martinez – claim the governor has a duty to sign gambling compacts with the tribe that are identical to those signed by other tribes in 2001 and 2007. The tribe says that while it can’t operate a casino now, having compacts would preserve its interest in gambling in the future.

It says it doesn’t matter that the tribe hasn’t been federally approved yet for gambling.

But Martinez’s lawyers say the Fort Sill argument “puts the process exactly backward.” The tribe first has to have eligible lands, they said.

The pending petition in the Supreme Court does not involve the new compact just approved by the Legislature, which any tribe already operating casinos could sign onto once it’s approved by the U.S. Department of Interior.

That compact has language that would specifically preclude the Fort Sill Apaches from signing it because of when their reservation in southern New Mexico was acquired.

The tribe, descendants of the Chiricahua Apaches, acquired about 30 acres of land at Akela Flats, near Deming in Luna County, in 1999.

The National Indian Gaming Commission determined a decade later the land was not eligible for a casino under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. The tribe sued the NIGC, and that’s pending.

Martinez has said she would negotiate a separate compact with Fort Sill once the tribe gets the go-ahead from the federal government.

Meanwhile, according to the state, the tribe has been trying to use state actions to persuade the federal government to change its mind.

Martinez said the Fort Sill Apaches “have been systematic in their attempts to leverage and manipulate state law and state courts against the federal government.”

The tribe successfully asked the state Supreme Court last year to order Martinez to list the tribe on the Indian Affairs Department website and invite Fort Sill to the annual state-tribal summit.

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