Navajo Nation leaders emphatically told members of the New Mexico Committee on Compacts they would not renegotiate an agreement that would allow the tribe to open three more gambling operations over 15 years.
The compact had been worked out by tribal officials and Governor Susana Martinez’s representatives. The committee ultimately voted to forward the agreement to the House and Senate for their approval. The U.S. Department of the Interior also must approve the compact, which would run through 2037. Currently, the Navajos operate two Las Vegas-style casinos near Gallup and Albuquerque under a compact that will expire next year; a third casino offers low-stakes gambling and is not subject to state regulation.
Navajo President Ben Shelly said he was concerned that requests from lawmakers for changes to the compact could prevent the legislature from voting on it in its 30-day session. He explained if a vote doesn’t happen until next year, the existing Navajo compact could expire before a new agreement is approved by the state and the U.S. Interior Department.
Shelly noted the “number of gaming facilities has been a very important position to the Navajo Nation.” He said the tribe has an unemployment rate of 50 percent, and although the tribe has no immediate plans for future casinos, additional ones would help create jobs.
“It is the position of the Navajo Nation that the gaming compact, in its current form, is fair, reasonable, and will continue to provide great benefits to the Navajo Nation and the state of New Mexico,” Shelly said.
Other tribes and pueblos oppose the proposed Navajo compact—in particular, the Laguna and Acoma pueblos, whose officials said a Navajo casino close to Albuquerque could hurt their gambling operations. Under their current compact, the Navajos, Mescalero, Jicarilla Apaches, Acoma and Pojoaques have no set limit on the number of casinos they can operate. Nine other tribes have different compacts with the state, approved in 2007, which allow them to operate two casinos each. New Mexico received about $71 million from tribal casinos last year, mainly from slots.
Shelly urged other tribes to drop their opposition to the Navajo compact. He said disagreement among the tribes over gambling agreements “sends a wrong message to the federal government. I am asking all the tribes to stay united like we have done in the past.”