Gov. Susana Martinez’s administration scored a win against the Pojoaque Pueblo after a federal appeals court junked the tribe’s appeal to negotiate a gambling compact with the U.S. Interior Department instead of the state government.
The tribe and the state of New Mexico failed to negotiate a new compact before the previous one expired in 2015, prompting the Pojoaque Pueblo to turn to the U.S. Interior Department for a new compact. Gov. Susana Martinez’s administration, however, challenged that move in a separate lawsuit, which was heard in the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver.
Last week, the federal appeals court issued a 58-page decision that affirmed a U.S. District Court judge’s decision that blocked the Interior Department from taking any action in the case. The appeals court also sided with the state in its efforts to go after vendors who continue to do business with the tribe’s casinos.
Despite not having a compact, the tribe’s gambling operations—such as the Buffalo Thunder Resort & Casino, Cities of Gold Casino as well as a sports bar and gas stations—continue to do business with vendors. U.S. Attorney Damon Martinez allowed that Pojoaque Pueblo back in June 2015 to continue operating its casinos even though the compact has already expired as long as the tribe pays the fees normally guaranteed to the state into an escrow amount until the compact is decided.
Under the expired compact, the tribe paid 8 percent of net winnings to the state, amounting to between $4.5 million and $6 million a year. The negotiated compacts require a higher percentage to be paid to the state, which Pojoaque considered as “illegal tax.”
The tribe had been negotiating to lower the gambling age from 21 to 18, as well as allow alcohol on the casino floor in exchange for end revenue sharing with the state, but state government negotiators believe those provisions will only hurt the administration’s attempts to create “a more socially responsible system.”
Pojoaque Pueblo Gov. Joe Talachy told The New Mexican that they are still “reviewing” their options “and will look at what it all means.”