Wyomingites for a Better Economy Today and Tomorrow
WyBETT   Wyomingites for a Better Economy Today and Tomorrow

Op ed piece in Albuquerque Journal, February 25, 2001, page B3

It’s easy to see why the tribes are anxious to negotiate new compacts.  Why does the State Legislature seem so desperate to hobble the state with 18-year compacts with the compact-breaking tribes?  The state is winning Attorney General Patricia Madrid’s lawsuit against the casinos in the Federal District Court of Judge Bruce Black.  The tribes petition to throw out the suit was rejected by Judge Black, almost insuring that the merits of the State’s case against the casinos will be ruled on---IF the legislature stays out of the way.

During the legislative session in 1997, the casinos were pleading with legislators to vote for the compacts for days immediately before the end of the session.  After the session they protested that there had been no real “negotiations,” and that they had been “coerced” into accepting the 16% revenue sharing.  It feels like déjà vu when George Rivera, Lt Governor of the Pojoaque Pueblo, asserts that the tribes are now being “extorted” by the Attorney General when she stated that the negotiations would have to include back payment of their revenue sharing.  Claiming “extortion” before the negotiations begins should be a pretty good warning to the legislators of things to come.

We have the State Attorney General insisting that the 16% revenue sharing is legal under state law.  Various tribal leaders have been quoted in the media, stating that under federal law, revenue sharing is “illegal.”  State Representative Roger Madelana reinforced that position in testimony before the House Judiciary Committee on February 2, 2001.  No one seriously suggests that under federal law the current 16% is illegal, but that the proposed 8% would be legal.  The casinos just hope that the legislature will ignore the federal law and swallow the bait of promised millions in revenue sharing---again.

No one in the legislature is SURE whether revenue sharing is legal or not. Dickering over the details is lunacy when the basic law of tribal revenue sharing is fundamentally in question.  The casinos are asking the legislature to play a game with uncertain rules.  The way to determine the fundamental law regarding revenue sharing is to allow the Attorney General’s lawsuit to move forward in the Federal Courts.

New Mexico is not operating in a vacuum, either.  Texas, Connecticut, Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan, Florida, and Oklahoma are some of the dozen or so states that are in conflict with tribes over “gaming” law.  Revenue sharing, tribal land acquisition, off-reservation gambling and extent of gambling are some of the issues in contention.  Legal remedies in Federal Court are being sought in many of these states.   It is a certainty that within two to five years the U.S. Supreme Court will decide the question of revenue sharing legality.  

The New Mexico Legislature could negotiate these new compacts, and find that the Supreme Court decided that revenue sharing is legal—the tribes just need to work out the percentage with the state.  Wouldn’t the legislature look foolish and wouldn’t the state be betrayed by throwing out perfectly legal compacts with 16% revenue sharing that had a life span of only five more years, and instead, being saddled with compacts that paid the state 8% and New Mexico was stuck with them for 18 years?  

Casino gambling is not economic development.  The casinos and the slots at the tracks have kept New Mexico from participating in the boom that swept the nation in recent years.  Thousands of New Mexico families have been pushed into economic disaster by a compulsive parent.  Public opinion polls over the last year indicate that the over 60% of the public would rather see the courts settle the conflict than have the legislature negotiate new compacts.  The legislature should resist the frivolous impulse to “so something.”  They should do nothing to expand the scope or the term of the compacts, and simply allow the Federal Courts to settle the fundamental principles of the law.

Dr. Guy C. Clark, executive director
New Mexico Coalition Against Gambling