Judge rules against New Mexico tribe trying to obtain new gambling compact from Interior

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ALBUQUERQUE, New Mexico — A federal judge in Albuquerque ruled Friday against a New Mexico tribe trying to obtain a new gambling compact from the Interior Department.

U. S. District Court Judge James Parker invalidated Interior Department regulations that allow a tribe to go to the agency for a gambling agreement when it's failed to negotiate a compact with the state.

Pojoaque Pueblo Gov. George Rivera said the tribe is considering an appeal of the decision.

"We are looking at the long term for the win," he said.

The court ruling also suggested another possible option of having the federal government sue the state on grounds that New Mexico hasn't negotiated in good faith.

If a judge made that determination, it could trigger a court monitored mediation process for a compact.

Pojoaque's compact with the state expires in June 2015.

The state has offered a compact to Pojoaque that other tribes agreed to in 2007, but it would require the pueblo to pay a higher share of its gambling proceeds to the state.

"The state is trying to extort money from the pueblo for a compact," Rivera said.

The Pojoaque Pueblo operates a casino near Santa Fe and is among 14 tribes in New Mexico that operate casinos under compacts with the state.

New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez's administration sued the federal government in August to stop the Interior Department from approving a new gambling compact for Pojoaque Pueblo.

The suit contended that the interior secretary doesn't have the authority to implement a compact under procedures being followed by Pojoaque after it failed to negotiate a new gambling agreement with the state.

It also said the Pojoaque's proposed compact would stop tribal revenue sharing payments to the state, allow the serving of alcohol in gambling areas and allow the tribe to lower the gambling age in casinos from 21 to 18.

Martinez said the proposed changes in casino operations would give the pueblo a competitive advantage over other New Mexico tribes with casinos.

Tribes pay the state a share of slot-machine proceeds after a deduction for how much gamblers win and regulatory fees. New Mexico received about $69 million last year from all tribes.

Martinez's Deputy Chief of Staff Jessica Hernandez said the governor's office was "pleased that the federal court agreed that compact negotiations should be between the state and the tribes and not dictated by the federal government.

"As we have from the beginning, we look forward to continuing negotiations with the Pueblo of Pojoaque as well as other tribes whose compacts are close to expiring," Hernandez added in a statement.

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