February 24, 2015

Committee gets first look at gaming compact

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A legislative committee tasked with approving a gaming agreement between Native American tribes and New Mexico met for the first time on Tuesday.

Bag o Cash

The Committee on Compacts heard from a representative of the governor’s office, and later asked questions, about the proposed gaming compact. The committee did not hear from the public or tribal officials but will at a future hearing.

Jessica Hernandez, deputy chief-of-staff and general counsel for Gov. Susana Martinez, briefed the committee made up of Senators and Representatives about the proposed agreement between the state and five tribes. Some of the differences she highlighted were revenue sharing percentages and player credit lines.

Revenue sharing between tribes and New Mexico is one of the main goals of gaming compacts.

Hernandez told the committee that previous compacts were based on one or three tiers, while this proposed compact is based on four tiers. Sharing would also increase over the next 15 years. If the proposed compact is approved, gaming facilities that bring in more than $80 million a year could share up to nine percent of their revenue with the state of New Mexico.

Facilities that make less than $20 million a year could pay two percent for the first $3 million of revenue and 8.5 percent for any revenue beyond that. By 2030, higher earners would pay up 10.5 percent and lower earners would pay up to 9.6 percent.

A new provision under the proposal would allow certain players a line of credit for a minimum of $10,000. Hernandez told the committee lines of credit would allow some visitors from out of state to play without traveling with large amounts of cash.

She added that according to law, tribes are not allowed to charge interest or refer debts to third party collection agencies. If tribes decide to litigate over a past due debt, Hernandez said, they would have to file in state court. At least one senator took issue with the proposed lines of credit.

Sen. George Munoz, D-Gallup, told Hernandez and the committee that he saw credit lines without much enforcement as an easy way to steal from the state. Munoz also raised concern over two tribes not being included in the proposed compact. Neither the Fort Sill Apache nor Pojoaque tribes are included in the proposal.

Hernandez said she has had discussions with both groups in the past. She said Pojoaque is asking for conditions unfair to other tribes and the state, while the Fort Sill Apache do not have land federally approved for gaming.

The hearing, which lasted about three hours, only consisted of Hernandez’s presentation and questions from the committee. A second meeting with public comment is scheduled for Saturday. It is unclear whether a vote will be conducted at that time.

Five tribes have signed on to the current proposal which needs to be approved by the House, Senate, the governor and the federal government before it becomes official. The current compact will expire in June.

The five tribes who signed on to the compact are the Acoma and Jemez Pueblos, the Jicarilla Apache and Navajo nations and the Mescalero Apache Tribe.