SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — Officials with two New Mexico tribes said Friday that the economy’s downturn and fewer federal and state funds factored into their decision to consider gambling compacts, making for a crowded field in the world of Native American gambling operations.
Zuni Pueblo and Jemez Pueblo both sent letters to Gov. Susana Martinez in January expressing their interest in negotiating to open a casino, The Albuquerque Journal reported (http://bit.ly/1kyWPsQ).
“It’s not to say we’re going to have a casino tomorrow morning somewhere on our reservation. It’s going to be a long process,” said Zuni Gov. Arlen Quetawki Sr. “We just decided it’s time to start considering that.”
Jessica Hernandez, the governor’s deputy chief of staff, is the lead negotiator on the compacts. She said Martinez’s office has had some preliminary discussions with both tribes.
According to New Mexico law, the state must negotiate gambling compacts with every tribe that requests it.
While there is no limit to the number of casinos, the resulting negotiations must be approved by the Legislature.
Lawmakers last month rejected a gambling compact that would have allowed the Navajo Nation to open three additional casinos over 15 years. Some pueblos objected to the deal, testifying before lawmakers that New Mexico’s gambling market was already saturated. They argued that their casinos would suffer if the state’s largest American Indian tribe was allowed to expand.
The Navajo Nation and Zuni Pueblo agreed last summer to divide in half more than 18,000 acres at Fort Wingate Army Depot near Gallup. The agreement, the result of more than 15 years of negotiations, includes land for both tribes along Interstate 40. While the land transfer must still be approved by the federal government, the land near I-40 is already being considered for a casino.
Quetawki said a feasibility study would have to be conducted.
Jemez Pueblo spent 10 years in partnership with a Santa Fe businessman to get a $72 million casino and hotel in Anthony in Dona County. In 2011, the federal government refused to take the land along Interstate 10 into trust for the project.
Jemez Pueblo Gov. Joshua Madalena told Martinez in a Jan. 31 letter that the tribe “continues to pursue its interest in economic development through gaming.”
Fourteen tribes own casinos in New Mexico. Five of them, including the Navajo Nation and Pojoaque Pueblo, are in the middle of hammering out new compacts with Martinez’s office before their current agreements expire next year.
Those tribes recently asked the U.S. Department of the Interior to help after negotiations faltered.