- Associated Press - Thursday, July 24, 2014

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) - A northern New Mexico Indian tribe has proposed changing casino rules to lower the gambling age to 18 from 21, allow alcohol in gaming areas and stop tribal revenue sharing payments to the state.

The Interior Department has asked Gov. Susana Martinez and Attorney General Gary King to comment on Pojoaque Pueblo’s proposals for casino gambling on tribal lands north of Santa Fe.

The Martinez administration is considering a lawsuit to stop the department from approving a gambling agreement with Pojoaque. A federal appeals court ruled in a Texas case in 2007 that the federal agency lacked the authority to impose a gambling compact on the state.

The pueblo’s compact with New Mexico expires in mid-2015. After failing to negotiate a new agreement with the Martinez administration, the tribe is seeking a compact through a procedure that would allow the Interior secretary to decide terms of a gambling agreement.

Pojoaque is among 14 tribes in New Mexico that operate casinos under compacts with the state. Five horse racing tracks in New Mexico also have casinos, but they can only operate electronic slot machines. Tribal casinos offer more types of gambling, including roulette and card games such as poker and blackjack.

Tribes pay the state a share of slot-machine proceeds after a deduction for how much gamblers win and regulatory fees. New Mexico received about $69 million last year from all tribes, including almost $5 million estimated from Pojoaque, based on gambling proceeds reported to the state. Individual revenue sharing payments by tribes are confidential under current compacts.

Martinez spokesman Enrique Knell said in a statement that the proposed compact would give Pojoaque “unfair competitive advantages that would be devastating to neighboring Pueblos.”

“The governor will work to ensure that Pojoaque conducts gaming on a level playing field with other tribes in the state,” Knell said.

Pojoaque Gov. George Rivera was traveling out of state and unavailable for comment on Thursday, according to his office.

Rivera told the Albuquerque Journal earlier this week, “We have built a facility that is a huge investment, and the pueblo is not willing to give away its hard-earned money while the whole reason for gaming was to take care of our communities.”

Proposed compact changes would scrap many current restrictions, permitting Pojoaque’s casinos to:

-Operate 24 hours a day. Tribal casinos now must close four hours daily, Monday through Thursday.

-Cash payroll, Social Security, pension and government assistance checks. Welfare recipients could use their electronic benefit cards at ATM machines to access money.

-Offer credit to gamblers by accepting their IOUs.

Under the proposed compact, the state would no longer oversee the tribe’s casinos. Gamblers or other visitors who aren’t tribal members would have to go to tribal court - rather than state court - to resolve disputes such as injuries suffered in a casino. The tribe also could carry smaller amounts of liability insurance to cover claims, according to the Martinez administration.

The attorney general isn’t likely to file comments with the Interior Department because the governor’s office has taken the responsibility for negotiating compacts and handling a lawsuit brought by Pojoaque.

King spokesman Phil Sisneros said “it would be more appropriate for the governor’s office to submit comments since it has been responsible for whatever dialogue has developed thus far.”

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