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Gov. Bill Richardson, tribes agree on new revenue-sharing deal

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SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) - Gov. Bill Richardson and all but two of New Mexico's 13 gaming tribes have reached an agreement that would allow more state oversight and a higher revenue-sharing rate in exchange for a longer gaming compact.

The proposed changes now head to the Legislature for approval. They would also need to be approved by the secretary of the Interior Department.

''The proposed compact amendments are not an extensive overhauling of the 2001 gaming compact,'' Richardson said in a letter to lawmakers. ''Rather, they make discrete and specific changes to the compact.''

The current compact was signed in 2001 and requires the tribes to pay the state no more than 8 percent of their casino profits. That revenue sharing amounts to more than $40 million a year.

Under the agreement, the compact would be extended to 2045 and the revenue-sharing rate that the tribes would pay to the state would increase to 9.25 percent and gradually rise to 10.75 percent, depending on each tribe's annual net return.

The higher rate is expected to bring an additional $10 million per year to the state between now and the end of the current compact.

The agreement also calls for tribal governments to be limited to two casinos per reservation with the exception of Laguna, which already has three.

Tesuque Pueblo Gov. Charlie Dorame, chairman of the New Mexico Indian Gaming Association, said the cap put on tribal casinos will affect the revenue coming in and that tribes will have to be more innovative in building their economies.

''Many of the provisions of the proposed amendments were difficult for the tribal leadership to accept, particularly those in relation to limits on gaming facilities and most especially the increased revenue sharing,'' Dorame said.

However, Dorame said extending the compacts is crucial to give tribes greater flexibility in financing projects.

The tribes reaching agreement with the state include Acoma, Isleta, Laguna, Ohkay Owingeh, Sandia, San Felipe, Santa Ana, Santa Clara, Taos and Tesuque as well as the Jicarilla Apache Nation. Pojoaque Pueblo and the Mescalero Apaches have not agreed to the proposed changes.

The compact changes also allow the addition of a sixth licensed racetrack as well as the right to operate gaming machines at the five existing tracks. However, the five tracks would be prohibited from seeking any increases in slot numbers or hours of operation.

House Speaker Ben Lujan, a Santa Fe Democrat, expressed confidence that lawmakers could address the compact changes during this legislative session.

Legislative leaders will appoint 16 lawmakers to a joint committee on compacts to consider the proposed changes. The panel will be evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans.

Under state law, the committee would have 45 days after receiving the proposed compact changes to recommend the Legislature approve them or ask Richardson to resume negotiations over specific issues.