Governor, pueblos sign gambling compacts 4-25-07

SANTA FE (AP) - Gov. Bill Richardson and eight pueblo governors have signed new gambling agreements that provide the state a larger share of Indian casino profits and tribes a sounder footing as they seek financing for big projects.

The new compacts, which extend until 2037, will become effective after approval by the U.S. Department of Interior.

They replace existing agreements that expire in 2015.

The new compacts also restrict the number of casinos a tribe may have and allow New Mexico to add only one more off-reservation racetrack casino. There are five now.

“This is basically how gaming will look in the state,” Richardson said at a signing ceremony Tuesday.

The governors of Sandia, Ohkay Owingeh, Tesuque, Santa Clara, San Felipe, Isleta, Picuris and Taos signed the compact. All currently operate casinos except for Picuris, which plans to open one within a year.

The governors of two other pueblos with casinos - Santa Ana and Laguna - couldn't attend the ceremony but are expected to sign soon, officials said.

Another four gambling tribes - the pueblos of Pojoaque and Acoma, the Mescalero Apaches and the Jicarilla Apaches - have no plans at this time to sign the new agreements, according to Hilary Tompkins, chief counsel for Richardson, who helped negotiate the deal.

Under a new state law, they have eight months to do so. If they didn't, they would keep operating under the terms of the current compacts.

“We encourage them to sign,” said Richardson, who prodded lawmakers to approve the compacts in the 60-day session that ended March 17.

Richardson said the compact is an example of the “cooperation and trust between the state, the Legislature and the tribes.”

The governor, who is seeking the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination, has enjoyed significant political support from New Mexico tribes. He got $14,000 from gambling tribes in February and March for his presidential bid. His gubernatorial re-election campaign took in about $205,000 from gambling tribes between 2004 and 2006.

A spokesman for the governor said there was “absolutely” no connection between the contributions and the new compacts.

“Campaign contributions had nothing to do with it,” said Gilbert Gallegos.

State and tribal officials said the agreements guarantee the state a steady stream of revenue for the next three decades and allow tribes to get longer-term financing for economic development and infrastructure projects.

San Felipe, for example, is working on financing for a wastewater treatment plant, said Gov. Michael Sandoval.

Ohkay Owingeh Gov. Earl Salazar said the 30-year period will allow his pueblo to continue to diversify its economic base and improve services to tribal members in health care, education and other areas.

“Gaming is an important part of our total business strategy. It is the engine that allows us to pursue and invest in other business opportunities,” Salazar said.

Under the new compacts, the maximum revenue sharing payments to the state - currently 8 percent of slot machine proceeds - would increase. A tiered formula would have the most profitable casinos paying 10.75 percent as of 2030.

New Mexico gets about $50 million a year now from Indian casinos. If all gambling tribes signed up for the new compacts, it's estimated the state would get about $3.17 billion by 2037, rather than the $2.51 billion it would have gotten under the current agreements - an increase of about $657 million.

The new agreements limit each tribe to two gambling facilities, except for Laguna, which may keep the three it has.

Off-reservation racetracks, which are not tribally owned, would be limited to six. The number of slot machines in each would be capped at the current 750, and the daily hours of operation frozen at the current 18.

Senate President Pro Tem Ben Altamirano, D-Silver City, said the restrictions provide “some assurance that the quality of life in our beautiful state will not be compromised by an over-proliferation of gaming.”

Former Ohkay Owingeh Gov. Joe Garcia, who is president of the National Congress of American Indians, said he had been in touch with the Interior Department and expects no delays or problems with the compact approval.