- Associated Press - Thursday, September 24, 2015

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) - Leaders and tribe members of an American Indian community in New Mexico plan to pack a federal courthouse in Colorado next week for arguments in a case they say could affect the way tribes and states negotiate gambling compacts.

A hearing in the case of Pojoaque Pueblo is scheduled Monday before the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver.

The pueblo is appealing a lower court ruling that blocked efforts to have the U.S. Interior Department approve a compact rather than the state.

Pojoaque had walked away from compact talks with New Mexico in 2013, saying Gov. Susana Martinez’s administration wasn’t negotiating in good faith and was violating the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.

Pueblo Gov. Joseph Talachy said the act provides a remedy for settling disputes, but legal action taken by the state has resulted in a roadblock that stands to compromise the integrity of the act.

“The importance of this can’t be underestimated,” he said. “This appeal ultimately sets precedent for other tribes as we move into the future on whether or not a state can or can’t leverage a tribe into unfair compacts.”

The state has disputed the pueblo’s claims, pointing to large and small tribes that signed on to new agreements earlier this year following years of negotiations.

Pojoaque sought a compact under which the gambling age would be lowered from 21 to 18, alcohol would be allowed on the casino floor, and revenue sharing with the state would end, among other things.

Negotiators for the Martinez administration argued those provisions would hurt attempts to create a more socially responsible system and one that would provide stability for New Mexico’s gambling market in the future.

Under federal law, tribes must have compacts with the state if they want to operate casinos.

Pojoaque’s compact expired in June, but its hundreds of slot machines and gambling tables north of Santa Fe are still operating under an agreement with the U.S. attorney’s office in New Mexico pending the outcome of the appeal.

Talachy said the pueblo continues to regulate its two casinos under the provisions of the expired compact and revenue-sharing payments are being deposited into an account overseen by an independent trustee.

The tribe already pays the state between $4.5 million and $6 million a year, and Talachy said the higher percentage called for in the new compacts amounted to an illegal tax.

“What the state is asking for is additional revenue sharing monies from tribes when the gaming market is basically declining in the state of New Mexico,” Talachy said. “Even though they know that, they want to take resources from the most impoverished, from the people with the least jobs. You can see history repeats itself.”

Tribes that operate casinos in New Mexico reported more than $731 million in net winnings last year. Net winnings are the amount wagered on gambling machines, minus the prizes won on those machines and regulatory fees.

Pojoaque was required to share 8 percent of its net winnings under the expired agreement. According to filings with the Gaming Control Board, the tribe reported net winnings of more than $60.7 million in 2014.

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Follow Susan Montoya Bryan: https://www.twitter.com/susanmbryanNM

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