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Plan for off-reservation casino at Anthony revived

By Charles, D. Brunt
Albuquerque, New Mexico (AP) April 2011

An all-but-dead plan by Jemez Pueblo and Santa Fe art dealer Gerald Peters to build a $72 million off-reservation casino near Anthony has been revived in a draft environmental impact statement outlining the pros and cons of building a casino nearly 300 miles south of the pueblo.

Since 2004, Peters has partnered with the pueblo in an effort to have the Bureau of Indian Affairs designate about 100 acres next to Interstate 10 in southern Dona Ana County as tribal trust land. That action would allow the tribe to build and run a casino there.

The effort went on life-support in early 2008 when the BIA declined to take the land into trust, effectively ending the pueblo's plan _ and those of about 30 other tribes nationwide _ to build an off-reservation casino.

Last May, the Obama administration agreed to review those plans and had allowed a handful of them, including Jemez Pueblo's, to move forward.

The BIA eventually will use a final environmental impact statement to help determine whether to take the land into trust for the pueblo. The draft statement and public comment are initial steps in the process, which could take years to complete.

The BIA will take public comments on the proposal through May 23 and a public hearing on the document will be April 30 in Anthony, Jemez Pueblo Gov. Michael Toledo Jr., told the Albuquerque Journal last week.

Jemez officials have said the pueblo, which lies far from any major highways or urban centers, is in dire need of the revenues casino gambling can bring to address a chronic unemployment rate of 50 percent, among other needs.

The draft statement shows a casino would benefit both Jemez Pueblo in northern New Mexico and Anthony, a rural community bisected by the New Mexico-Texas border, Toledo said.

The pueblo governor said Anthony's needs are nearly identical to Jemez Pueblo's.

“They need housing; they need infrastructure; they need (emergency medical services) and police,” Toledo said. “Those are the facts that can be proven in the EIS.”

The draft looks at the likely environmental impacts of three plans for the casino, including “Alternative C,” which is taking no action.

The first alternative shows construction of a 24,000-square-foot temporary casino with 600 slot machines, eight to 10 table games and a snack bar. That would be followed in two years by construction of a 103,500-square foot permanent casino with 1,500 slots, 35 table games, restaurants, a lounge, gift shop, banking facility and administrative offices. The temporary casino would employ 450 and the permanent casino would employ 950.

Tribal member Benny Shendo said the average annual wage for casino workers would be about $28,000, including benefits.

Plans also call for an adjacent hotel with space for 80 to 100 guests.

The second alternative skips the temporary casino and goes straight to a permanent casino and hotel.

Although few, if any, Jemez Pueblo residents are likely to work at the casino, tribal officials said it would generate revenues that would be used to expand tribal government and to encourage entrepreneurs to open businesses at the pueblo.

Earlier plans for the casino met with resistance from Sunland Park Race Track and Casino, about 15 miles south of Anthony; the New Mexico Indian Gaming Association, made up of other gaming tribes; and the Mescalero Apache Tribe, which operates casinos about 110 miles northeast of Anthony.

The Anthony Town Council voted to support the casino by a 3-2 vote. State Sen. Mary Kay Papen, who represents the area, has opposed it.

Off-reservation casino projects require the approval of the U.S. Interior Department secretary and the governor of the state in which they are to be located.

Gov. Susana Martinez, a longtime resident of Dona Ana County, has been noncommittal. Shendo said pueblo officials have requested a meeting with her.

Peters has tried for years to get into the casino business, first as a partner in an unsuccessful attempt to build the state's fifth horse racing track and casino, and more recently as a potential partner in a stalled sixth track and casino in Raton.

Attorney Denise Greenlaw Ramonas, Peters' chief of staff, said his commitment to the Jemez project is unwavering.

Peters would be the casino project's developer, Ramonas said. Funding for the project would be the pueblo's responsibility.