New Mexico Tribe Alleges State Strong Arming Compact Negotiations

Posted on: May 10, 2017, 05:00h. 

Last updated on: May 10, 2017, 03:20h.

A New Mexico tribe arguing it doesn’t have to negotiate with the state on a new gaming compact told a federal appeals court this week that politicians in Santa Fe are pressuring its vendors from working with the Native American group.

New Mexico compact Pueblo of Pojoaque
The Pueblo of Pojoaque tribe believes New Mexico is playing dirty politics. The Native American group charges in a federal appeals court that the state is violating their gaming rights. (Image: Pueblo of Pojoaque/Facebook)

The Pueblo of Pojoaque Tribe operates two casinos in the state, the Buffalo Thunder Resort near Albuquerque, and the Cities of Gold Hotel in Santa Fe. Its gaming compact with New Mexico, however, expired in 2015.

The two sides have engaged in a contentious dispute over a new deal, specifically what tax threshold should be imposed. The tribe says nothing, while the state wants to increase its levy.

The failure to come to terms has ended with the tribe suing the state and arguing that federal law doesn’t require the Pojoaque Pueblos to negotiate.

 In response, the state has allegedly pressured vendors that work with the two casinos into severing their working relationships.

Indian officials claimed before the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver that the state sent letters to its vendors saying if they continued working with the Pueblos, their business licenses could be revoked.

 “It is the federal government that has the jurisdiction over the state’s gaming activities,” Pueblo attorney Scott Crowell opined. “The state is trying to usurp that jurisdiction.”

The Tenth Circuit is the former home of recently appointed Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch.

Court Disagrees

Crowell’s claims that the federal government presides over Indian gaming, and not individual states, doesn’t seem to have much support in the US court system. Last month, the same federal court ruled against the tribe’s motion that it should negotiate with the US Department of the Interior on a new compact, not New Mexico.

While Native Americans have the federal right to operate Class I and II gaming on reservation land deemed sovereign under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA), to offer the all-important Class III category, which include slots and table games, tribes have historically been forced to enter state compacts.

New Mexico says it has every right to strong arm vendors that continue to work and assist in the Pueblo’s ongoing casino operations since the tribe is technically running illegal gambling venues.

“If you do business with an illegal operation, they’ll de-license you,” Judge Paul Kelly told Crowell. “Absent a compact, it’s illegal.”

Next Steps

Testimony provided during the 30-minute discussion will now be considered for a rare “en banc” hearing. Since a three-member panel already ruled against the tribe in the same appeals court, a majority of judges in the Tenth Circuit would need to recommend the case be retried.

Should the Pueblo’s petition be granted, a minimum of 10 of the Tenth’s 18 judges would need to sit on the bench to listen to arguments from New Mexico and the tribe.

The state has offered a new gaming compact that would demand the two casinos share nine percent of their annual adjusted net win with Santa Fe. The tax would increase to 10.75 percent by 2030.

Twelve other sects of pueblos have current gaming compacts with New Mexico, as do four other Native American groups.