Federal Appeals Court Hears Pojoaque Pueblo on New Mexico Casino Compact

Lawyers for New Mexico-based Pojoaque Pueblo presented on Monday a federal appeals court with arguments in an appealed case that could impact the way tribes and states negotiate the terms of casino compacts.

The Indian community appealed a lower court ruling that prevented it from negotiating a gambling compact with the US Department of the Interior rather than with New Mexico. Under the current tribal regulations, an Indian nation must reach an agreement with the state its members reside in in order to be able to run a gambling venue there.

Pojoaque Pueblo’s former agreement with the state of New Mexico expired this June. Tribal officials have tried to negotiate a new one with somewhat different terms. For instance, they called for the gambling age to be lowered to 18 and to be allowed to serve alcohol on the casino floor. What is more, Pojoaque Pueblo wanted to stop sharing a portion of its revenue with New Mexico. Eventually, no new compact was signed.

However, state Gov. Susana Martinez and her administration stated that if approved, those new terms would have quite a negative effect on the state’s attempts to provide residents with a socially responsible environment.

Attorneys for the Indian community said during the Monday hearing that the state had not negotiated the terms of the new compact “in good fate.” Representatives for the state, on the other hand, denied Pojoaque Pueblo’s claims that New Mexico had ignored important provisions of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act for settling its dispute with the Indian community. As a proof to this, they pointed out that other New Mexico-based tribes signed new compacts with the state after their previous ones expired.

Pojoaque Pueblo currently operates two casinos in New Mexico and it runs them under the provisions of its old agreement. It also keeps on depositing a portion of its gaming revenue into a special account that is overseen by an independent trustee.

Annually, the pueblo pays up to $6 million to the state. The New Mexico Gaming Control Board revealed that the casino operated by the Indian community generated revenue of $60.7 million last year. Under the terms of the expired compact, it contributes 8% of its net winnings to the state.

The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, which heard on Monday the involved parties in the legal dispute, is yet to announce its final decision.