January 16, 2015

Legislative tennis: How gaming compacts are made

Bag o CashThe process of approving gaming compacts in New Mexico can be hard to understand. There is an interim legislative committee assigned to compacts, but it does not operate like traditional committees in the state legislature. Instead the Compact Negotiation Act outlines a process that can resemble legislative tennis.

Gaming compacts are agreements between tribal and state governments regarding casino gaming. For New Mexico, gaming compacts outline rules, regulations and how much of a tribes net winnings are paid to the state.

The Committee on Compacts is made up of 16 members, half of which are members of the House of Representatives and half of which are from the Senate. The Speaker of the House and the Senate President Pro Tem alternate years for picking the chair of the committee. This year Sen. Mary Kay Papen, D-Las Cruces, will pick the chairperson and Rep. Don Tripp, R-Socorro, will pick the vice-chairperson. The other members of the committee will also be assigned to the committee by their respective chamber leader.

The compact process starts with negotiations between the governor’s office and tribal leaders. Once they come to an agreement, a proposed compact is sent to the Committee on Compacts.

So far, two tribes have reached an agreement with Gov. Susana Martinez’s office. The Jicarilla Apache Nation and the Navajo Nation have both agreed to pay the state 2 percent of the first $6 million of winnings from gaming machines and 8.5 percent of winnings when they exceed that. In 2030 the tribes would pay 9.5 percent.

The committee’s job is to review proposed compacts and decide whether to approve the compact or not. Unlike other committees the Committee on Compacts cannot make changes to what’s provided. The committee can only recommend changes. If the committee has proposed changes, the committee will send the compact back to the governor’s office; a process they can only do three times. The committee has 45 days after receiving the proposal to make a decision.

Members of the committee usually don’t see the proposed compacts until they are sent from the governor’s office.

Rep. Larry Larrañaga, R-Albuquerque, is a previous member of the Committee on Compacts. He said he’s hopeful the compacts will have support of the legislature.

“The last discussion that some of have had is ‘Yeah, we’re negotiating and we’re looking forward to having a compact,’” Larrañaga said in a phone interview.

If a proposed compact goes back to the negotiation stage, the governor’s office and the negotiating tribe have 20 days to respond to the proposed changes. If the tribal leaders or the governor’s office do not agree with the recommendation, they must notify the committee immediately, according to statute. Once the committee is notified that further negotiations are refused, a 30-day clock starts and the committee must draft a joint resolution and give their recommendation to the legislature. The committee can choose also to not make a recommendation at all.

According to the Compact Negotiation Act, “The committee shall submit to the legislature the proposed compact or amendment and a joint resolution to approve the proposed compact or amendment with the committee’s recommendation to approve it or disapprove it, or expressing no recommendation on the action that should be taken by the legislature.”

This year, any proposed compact will go the Senate first. The House and Senate cannot make substantive changes to the proposed compact but can do small things like correct a technical mistake in the wording.

In the event that the Legislature votes to approve a proposed compact, other tribes and the governor’s office can use it as a framework for other negotiations.

The Apache and Navajo are two of six tribes that are working on proposed compacts. They, along with Acoma Pueblo and the Mescalero Apaches, have compacts that are set to expire this June. Jemez and Zuni Pueblos are not currently operating gaming establishments but are reportedly negotiating with the Martinez administration. In 2014, a Navajo Nation compact passed the House but failed in the Senate by 21 votes.

Pojoaque Pueblo’s compact is also set to expire in June and the tribe is trying to reach a deal with the federal government.

Rep. Georgene Louis, D-Albuquerque, who served on the committee last year said it’s hard to speculate what will happen if the compacts are not approved.

“The old one would expire and we would see what would happen with an expired contract,” Louis said of the possibility.

If the proposed compacts are approved by the Legislature, the Martinez administration and other tribes can use them as a framework for new negotiations. Under state law, Martinez can approve a compact independently from the Legislature if the agreement is in line with what lawmakers already passed. If a compact is approved by the House and Senate, it would still have to be approved by the federal government.

Membership for the Committee on Compacts will most likely be announced next week after the session starts.


  • Andy Lyman

    Andy Lyman is an Albuquerque based reporter. He previously covered the New Mexico's legislative session for the New Mexico News Network and served as a reporter and host for numerous news outlets.