New gambling compact for tribal casinos heads to New Mexico Senate

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SANTA FE, New Mexico — A New Mexico legislative committee threw its support on Saturday behind a proposed new gambling compact between the state and Native American tribes.

The compact committee voted 15-1 in favor of the new proposal after hearing several hours of public testimony. The revamped gambling compact would let tribal casinos stay open around the clock and offer complimentary food and lodging.

Navajo Nation Council Speaker LoRenzo Bates was among the tribal representatives who testified before the committee. Bates said that four other tribes and the Governor's Office were united with the Navajo tribe in support of the compact.

"Together, we have produced a Gaming Compact that is fair, reasonable and will continue to benefit all of us in the form of jobs and revenue for the tribes and state," Bates said.

The proposed gambling agreement is the result of three years of negotiations with the Navajos, the Mescalero and Jicarilla Apache tribes, and the pueblos of Jemez and Acoma. But other New Mexico tribes voiced their opposition. Laguna Pueblo Lt. Gov. David Martinez said he was against a provision that permits tribes with a population above 75,000 to open a new casino in six years, the Santa Fe New Mexican reported (http://bit.ly/1E757Tu ). Tesuque Pueblo Gov. Milton Herrera also objected to a population-based provision. His tribe runs the Camel Rock Casino north of Santa Fe.

The committee also voted against six amendments, including a proposal to delay building of new casinos from six years to 10 years. The proposed agreement now heads to the Senate for consideration.

Jessica Hernandez, Martinez's deputy chief of staff and lead negotiator, told lawmakers last week the compact is more socially responsible and would provide stability for New Mexico's gambling market for another two decades. Revenues to the state would increase in exchange for it ensuring gaming exclusivity for the tribes, she said.

"It's a very carefully negotiated agreement that balances a lot of different interests," Hernandez said.

The proposed compact also calls for tribes to submit monthly and quarterly reports to state regulators, and tribes would have to provide more information to players about resources to treat problem gambling.

Some lawmakers have raised concerns about extending credit to high rollers and allowing tribes to keep their casinos open 24 hours a day. Others questioned the effects on state horse tracks and nontribal casinos.

Lawmakers are facing a hard deadline as agreements that allow a handful of American Indian tribes to operate casinos approach their June expiration date. If the tribes want to legally operate casinos, a new compact has to be approved by the Legislature before adjourning March 21. After that, the compact would need the U.S. Interior Department's approval.

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