New Mexico House OKs Navajo gambling compact

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SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) - A proposed tribal-state gambling compact that would allow the Navajo Nation to open additional casinos cleared the House on Tuesday. But one more hurdle remains before the Legislature adjourns this week.

The compact must be approved by the House and Senate, as well as the U.S. Interior Department, to take effect.

The House approved the proposal on a 36-30 vote and sent it to the Senate to consider as the legislative session neared an end. Lawmakers will adjourn on Thursday.

The Navajos - New Mexico’s largest American Indian tribe- contend that the new compact is critical for future economic development and to protect its existing casinos.

“It’s a good thing for the people,” Navajo President Ben Shelly told reporters after the vote.

The tribe negotiated the proposed agreement with Republican Gov. Susana Martinez’s administration.

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

Those casinos employ 950 people.

The proposed compact would extend to 2037 and permit the Navajos to phase in three additional casinos over 15 years.

Shelly said the tribe likely would upgrade its existing casinos, potentially adding a conference center, hotel or golf course, before developing a new casino.

“I foresee another casino being built to be a long, long way off,” he said.

Rep. Sandra Jeff, a Crownpoint Democrat who is Navajo, said the compact offered the potential for economic development.

“It will help the Navajo people, who are my people, with the keeping of their jobs, and if they open up another facility it will be more jobs for the Navajo people,” Jeff said.

The compact has faced opposition from other pueblos and tribes.

The Acoma and Laguna pueblos have warned that their casinos along Interstate 40 would suffer, potentially jeopardizing tribal jobs and services, if the Navajos open a new casino on tribal lands near Albuquerque.

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