Lawmakers to consider Navajo gambling compact
Editors Note Corrects spelling of Navajo Council delegate to LoRenzo.
By BARRY MASSEY
SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) _ The Navajo Nation could open three additional casinos over 15 years under a revised gambling compact proposal submitted to the Legislature for its approval.
A legislative committee plans to consider the latest gambling agreement on Wednesday, but it isn't expected to vote on whether to endorse the proposal.
The Navajos operate two Las Vegas-style casinos under terms of a compact expiring in 2015. The tribe has a third casino in New Mexico with low-stakes gambling not subject to state regulation
Sen. Clemente Sanchez, a Grants Democrat and member of the Committee on Compacts, said he wanted tribal and state officials to go back to the negotiating table to limit the Navajos to their current casinos.
``We're saturated enough. We don't need any more,'' Sanchez said in an interview.
If the Navajos are allowed to open more casinos, he said, that could undercut casinos operated by other tribes, including Acoma and Laguna pueblos in his legislative district.
New Mexico received about $71 million from tribal casinos last year.
The Navajos and Gov. Susana Martinez's administration negotiated a new compact last year, but the House and Senate didn't vote on it.
Navajo Nation Council Delegate LoRenzo Bates said in an interview that negotiators revamped the proposal to address concerns raised by the Interior Department and lawmakers. The federal agency must approve the compact if it clears the Legislature.
Last year's proposed compact would have allowed the Navajos to operate five Las Vegas-style casinos _ three in addition to its current two.
The latest proposal also would permit five, but phase in the additional casinos over at least 15 years.
The expansion could start after five years from the time the compact is approved, with the tribe able to operate a third casino. A fourth casino would be allowed after 10 years and a fifth after 15 years.
There is no limit on the number of casinos under the current compact with the Navajo Nation and four other tribes _ the Mescalero and Jicarilla Apaches as well as Acoma and Pojoaque pueblos.
Nine other New Mexico tribes have different compacts with the state, approved in 2007, and they can only operate two casinos.
Bates said the Navajos, with about 100,000 enrolled members in New Mexico, should be allowed to have more casinos.
``We are larger than any tribe. We have the most people and as such we would like the opportunity, if the opportunity arises, to consider ... building another casino,'' he said.
The latest compact eliminated a provision that drew criticism last year from other tribes because it would have set a precedent by having the Navajos make revenue sharing payments to the state on a portion of ``free play,'' in which casinos offer promotions allowing customers to gamble for free.
Tribal casino payments to the state generally are based on slot machine proceeds from wagering after a deduction for how much gamblers win.
The latest compact calls for the Navajos to make payments under the same terms as tribes covered by the 2007 agreements with the state. Those rates are higher than what the Navajos currently pay.
Follow Barry Massey on Twitter at https://twitter.com/bmasseyAP
By The Associated Press, Copyright 2014