March 1, 2015

Gaming compact heads to Senate for approval

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Courtesy of Jeff Kubina via Flickr

The Committee on Compacts met on Saturday and sent a proposed gaming compact between the state and tribes to the Senate on a 15 to 1 vote.

Sen. John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, was the only member to cast a dissenting vote. He said he thought there are already too many casinos in the state.

Courtesy of Jeff Kubina via Flickr

Courtesy of Jeff Kubina via Flickr

The five tribes that negotiated with Gov. Susana Martinez’s office urged the committee to approve the proposed compact. Each tribe representative had different talking points, but they all stressed that the compact should  to be approved soon to keep casino doors open and keep money flowing into the state’s coffers. Four of the five tribes are signed on to compacts that will expire in June of this year.

Both the Senate and the House must vote with a majority before the compact goes back to the governor’s desk for approval. If the governor signs the compact, it would still require federal approval.

Other tribes that are not signed on to the proposal also spoke, many with a neutral or favorable stance. A few leaders told the committee that the new compact would give some groups an advantage over others.

A majority of the second half of the meeting was devoted to proposals from committee members. Unlike other panels, the Committee on Compacts cannot make any changes to the proposal, but can make recommendations and send it back to the negotiating table. The committee went through a list of proposals, but ultimately voted them all down.

New Mexico Political Report outlined the compact process ahead of the legislative session.

The proposal with the closest vote was to change wording in the compact that would allow tribes to build gaming facilities on land that was acquired after 1988. A vocal supporter of the measure was Fort Sill Apache Chairman Jeff Haozous. He said wording in the bill would directly affect his group.

The Fort Sill Apaches were forced out of New Mexico in the 19th century and eventually relocated to Oklahoma where their headquarters are today. In 2011, the group was officially awarded land in New Mexico and have long been fighting for the opportunity to open a gaming facility there.

Jessica Hernandez, Martinez’s chief of staff, assured the committee that her office did not intend to single out Fort Sill. She said many tribes own recently acquired land and the wording would apply to them as well. In a previous interview with New Mexico Political Report, Hernandez said it would be premature to negotiate a compact with Fort Sill because their land has not been federally approved for gaming.

Smith urged the committee to vote in favor of eliminating the wording in the compact. He argued that the wording should be removed if the compact was not intended to exclude Fort Sill. The wording of the compact in addition to the federal prohibition, Smith said, was too much.

“This is a double death knell for them,” he told the committee.

The proposal to remove the language from the compact failed on a 7 to 1 vote.

The Senate and House can only vote on the proposal and cannot make any changes before sending to the governor’s desk. Last year a proposed compact between the state and the Navajo Nation cleared the House on a 36 to 30 vote, but failed in the Senate 10 to 31.

The Navajo Nation, Acoma Pueblo, Jicarilla Apache Nation and the Mescalero Apache Tribe all have compacts that will expire this year. Jemez Pueblo does not have any gaming facilities, but have said they would like to look into the possibility.

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