The New Mexico Senate recently rejected a new compact with the Navajo Nation, leaving the tribe to strategize how it can have a different outcome in the 2015 legislature. The current compact expires June 30, 2015.
Derrick Watchman, chief executive officer of the Navajo Nation Gaming Enterprise, said he can’t recall when a gaming compact expired before a new one was approved. “As far as my recollection, most tribes have been able to put something together with the state before they hit the termination date,” he said.
Watchman added loans and agreements depend on the tribe’s three casinos being fully licensed and able to operate under a legal compact. “In a lot of our documents we only have a year left. We’re going to have to give notice to many of our lenders because of a material change to the agreement,” Watchman said.
He acknowledged a year and a half is a long time and the situation could change—especially since 2014 is an election year.
He also noted the tribe dealt with Governor Bill Richardson regarding its original compact in 2001. Governor Susana Martinez approved the compact rejected by the state Senate.
The Navajo Nation’s compact has been strongly opposed by New Mexico’s Pueblo tribes, who were concerned they would not be able to negotiate their own compacts if the Navajos were used as a gaming template. Watchman said under the New Mexico Compact Negotiation Act, one approved compact could be used as a model for other tribes.
The Pueblos also objected to a provision in the compact allowing the Navajos to build three more Class III casinos in the next 25 years, bringing the total to five facilities. Watchman pointed out the Pueblos seem to have forgotten the Navajo Nation is large, with a large population and land base. “When you think about it, adding three more Class III facilities in the next 25 years, it could be enough time or not enough time. We have a responsibility to the Navajo people. The Navajo tribe is growing like everybody else and we have to keep options open. Five facilities seems like the right number.”