Pojoaque Pueblo New Mexico gaming compacts

The Pojoaque Pueblo is throwing legal tomahawks at the state of New Mexico over a compact they feel is not being negotiated in good faith (Image: Pojoaque Pueblo Realty)

It’s no secret that the compact negotiations between American Indian tribes and states concerning casinos and other gambling facilities can be contentious during the best of times. On the one hand, states are often reluctant partners who want to get as much financial benefit as possible without allowing tribes to offer unrestricted gaming on their land. Meanwhile, the tribes are often unhappy about having to negotiate at all to bring economic development to land that is supposed to be their own.

Tense Standoff

That’s a pretty good description of the relationship between New Mexico and the Pojoaque Pueblo tribe of Native Americans. Right now, the two sides are operating under a compact that will last until June 2015. But with that agreement running out in about 18 months, negotiations are underway to strike a new bargain – and the Pojoaque Pueblo doesn’t think the state is dealing in good faith.

That’s why the tribe has decided to sue the state over the failure in negotiations. According to the Pojoaque Pueblo, the state government – and in particular, Governor Susana Martinez’s administration – has been attempting to collect an illegal tax without any new benefits for the tribe.

The tribe started asking for a renewal of the compact in June 2010, and the state later appointed a negotiator to work out a deal. But after two meetings, the tribe says there’s been no progress at all on the most important points.

More Taxes, More Fees

According to the lawsuit, the Pojoaque Pueblo says that the state’s proposal would see the two sides enter into a 23-year compact. Immediately, the state’s share of gambling revenue would increase from 8 percent to 9.5 percent — and would climb further in later years, up to an eventual level of 10.5 percent. Meanwhile, the state’s proposal would also involve increased fees and would restrict the scope of tribal gambling operations. Currently, the tribe operates two casinos north of Santa Fe – the Buffalo Thunder Resort and Casino, and the Cities of Gold Casino – and would like to maintain the option to open other properties as well.

“The Pueblo cannot agree to greater taxation and regulatory fees, the continuation of outdated business practices, or new restrictions that are damaging to the industry,” said Pueblo Governor George Rivera.

According to the Pueblo, a counteroffer was issued that would not ask the state for any protection from gambling competition. However, that proposal also does not include any provisions for the tribe to share gaming revenue.

A spokesman for Governor Martinez disputed the tribe’s claims, saying that they’ve been negotiating in good faith.

“It’s incredibly unfortunate that Pojoaque has chosen to litigate, not negotiate,” said spokesman Enrique Knell. “This is an unnecessary and potentially costly tactic on their part, one that, unfortunately, tribal leadership has been seemingly determined to take for the past year.”

The lawsuit does not ask for damages, but instead requests that the court appoint a mediator who would work with the two sides for up to 60 days in order to help strike a deal.

This lawsuit is only the latest incident in a contentious relationship between the Pojoaque Pueblo and New Mexico. While most other tribes signed gambling compacts in 2001, Pojoaque was one of two tribes to refuse, not coming to an agreement with the state until 2005. In 2007, most tribes agreed to extended compacts with a tax increase that brought the state’s share of revenue up to 10.75 percent, but the Pojoaque Pueblo again refused.