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New gaming terms proposed for Navajo casinos in NM

Barry Massey, Associated Press

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) -- Negotiators for Gov. Susana Martinez and the Navajo Nation have agreed on key terms of a possible gambling compact that would allow the state's largest Indian tribe to operate five casinos and for New Mexico to collect a greater share of casino earnings.

The goal is to submit a new compact to the Legislature for approval before lawmakers adjourn this month, said Jessica Hernandez, the governor's deputy chief of staff and general counsel.

"We've tried to build a compact that is fair to all sides," she said Monday.

A committee of the Navajo Nation Council must endorse the proposals before a final compact can be prepared and sent to the Legislature. The Interior Department also must approve any compact agreed upon by the state and tribe.

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.

Negotiators propose a new gambling agreement extending until 2037 — the same date as 2007 compacts with nine New Mexico tribes. The longer term of a compact helps tribes obtain financing for their economic development and infrastructure projects.

The Navajos signed a compact with New Mexico a decade ago and its terms match those of 2001 agreements with four other tribes. Those provide maximum revenue sharing to the state of 8 percent of slot machine proceeds.

Negotiators agreed to a maximum payment rate of 10.75 percent that starts in 2030 — the same as 2007 compact terms — but revenue sharing will vary depending on the proceeds from the tribe's casinos and over the duration of the agreement.

Once a new compact is approved, the Navajos will pay the state 9.75 percent of slot machine proceeds and that will increase over time and if the Navajos open more casinos that generate additional revenue. Negotiators agreed to a new rate schedule for a tribe with more than $150 million in gambling proceeds. The 2007 compacts highest payment rates apply to tribes generating $50 million or more from their casinos.

New Mexico received about $65 million from tribal casinos in 2011, and Hernandez said that will increase if a new compact is approved with the Navajos.

The goal is to have a new compact approved within the next few months "because it provides much benefit not only for the Navajo Nation but also for the state of New Mexico," said Karis Begaye, an attorney with the Navajo Nation Department of Justice.

Hernandez said the state has been negotiating for months with the Navajos and the four tribes with 2001 compacts — the Mescalero and Jicarilla Apaches as well as Acoma and Pojoaque pueblos. The tribes asked for the negotiations.

She said the administration hopes to reach agreements with the four other tribes similar to what's proposed with the Navajos. Other tribes could seek to renegotiate their 2007 compacts and a new agreement with the Navajos could serve as a foundation for any changes.

Other provisions proposed by negotiators:

— The Navajos could operate five casinos — three in addition to its current two. There is no limit under its current compact, but tribes can have two casinos under the 2007 agreements.

— The Navajos could operate their casinos 24 hours a day. Currently, tribal casinos must close four hours daily Monday through Thursday.

— The gambling revenue payments to New Mexico would end if the state approves Internet gambling. Limits on nontribal horse racing track casinos and their slot machines would be the same as 2007 compacts.


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