Navajo panel moves forward with gambling compact

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — A panel of Navajo Nation lawmakers has settled on terms that the American Indian tribe would like to see adopted as part of a new gambling compact with the state of New Mexico.

The tribe's current compact is set to expire in June, and negotiations with Gov. Susana Martinez's administration have been ongoing for months.

Navajo Nation Council Speaker Pro Tem LoRenzo Bates said in a statement issued Monday that the result of the discussions is a compact that's "fair for our people and for the people of New Mexico."

Under the formula outlined in the proposal, revenue sharing with the state would range from 8.5 percent to 10.75 percent depending on the amount of net winnings and the number of years the compact has been in place.

Because Navajo casinos bring in around $80 million a year in net winnings, the rate of sharing is expected to go up from the current 8 percent to 9 percent for the first three years of the agreement. It would increase to 10 percent in 2018 and 10.75 percent in 2030.

Officials estimate the increased rate would result in about $1 million more a year for the state in the first three years.

A similar effort to renew the contact failed during the last legislative session over objections to the Navajos opening three more casinos over a 15-year period.

The latest proposal would limit tribes with a population of more than 75,000 to three casinos and those with fewer people to two casinos. Tribes that currently have more casinos would be grandfathered in if they sign on to the compact.

The Navajos operate two Las Vegas-style casinos in New Mexico — near Gallup and Farmington — under the compact expiring in mid-2015, and a third casino near Shiprock that offers low-stakes gambling not subject to state regulation. The tribe also operates a casino in northern Arizona.

The Navajos and Jicarilla Apache tribe in northern New Mexico have approved the key terms of the proposed compact. It's possible more tribes could sign on before the 60-day legislative session begins in January.

The upcoming legislative session will mark the last chance for New Mexico lawmakers to weigh in before current gambling agreements with the Navajos and four other tribes expire.

In order for the tribes to continue legally operating their casinos, the compacts need approval from the Legislature and the U.S. Interior Department, said Jessica Hernandez, Martinez's deputy chief of staff and lead negotiator on the compacts.

"That is why the governor's office has worked hard over the past three years to reach agreements with as many of those tribes as possible," she said. "Those good-faith negotiations have resulted in a proposed compact that incorporates key tribal priorities while protecting important state interests."

The dynamics during the upcoming session will be different because the clock is ticking now and more tribes are involved.

Nine other New Mexico tribes operate under different compacts with the state. Those agreements were approved in 2007.

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