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Navajo council tables measure to secure loan to finance casino construction

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Felicia Fonseca -- Associated Press

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) - Casino development on the nation's largest American Indian reservation has been set back slightly now that lawmakers have tabled a measure that would help pay for it.

Navajo Nation delegates met in a special session Sept. 28 in Window Rock, Ariz., to consider a $100 million line of credit the tribe secured earlier this year from JP Morgan Chase. They voted 38 - 33 to table the bill until after a work session is held to better inform the delegates of what one said is a ''big financial risk.''

''Is it a setback?'' said Bob Winter, chief executive of the Navajo Nation Gaming Enterprise. ''It's minor, and it's justified. These are complex financial transactions, and if they want additional information ... that's fine.''

The tribe plans to build its first casino in the Gallup area, and it can't put engineering and design contracts out to bid until the council approves the line of credit.

Council Delegate Leonard Tsosie, who moved to table the measure, said he was concerned about who would sign off on any money being used and whether other lenders are involved, among other things.

The credit line allows the tribe to draw down small amounts, instead of receiving a lump sum, and pay only the interest on that for the first two years, Winter said.

''This puts the Navajo Nation at a big financial risk,'' Tsosie said. ''We don't mind paying that. We just want the nation protected in its dealings.''

The work session is expected before the council convenes for its fall session Oct. 15. The line of credit could come up then or in a special session.

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''I think it's unprecedented that we've ever approved something of this magnitude,'' Tsosie said. ''... I want to be able to go back to my people and say I've asked all the questions before I cast my vote.''

Winter said some of the delegates' concerns stem from being unfamiliar with lines of credit, which he said are preferable to bond financing and management contracts.

''We're confident we can answer all the questions,'' he said.

A temporary casino is planned for the Gallup area, and the selection of the exact site is in the hands of the gaming enterprise board members.

Also on Sept. 28, delegates overwhelmingly approved the appointment of five of the nine board members. They are Martin Lieberman, a lawyer from Scottsdale, Ariz.; Jack Jackson Jr., a former Arizona state representative from Fort Defiance, Ariz.; Sean McCabe of Albuquerque, president and co-founder of an accounting and consulting firm; Tanya Rae Curley of Fort Defiance, who has 14 years of gaming experience as a dealer and floor supervisor; and Maureen Curley of Phoenix, a technical support manager with the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community in Scottsdale, Ariz.

''This gives us a quorum, and we're able to function,'' Winter said.

Winter has recommended a site just east of Gallup on 21 acres of tribal trust land between Interstate 40 and the railroad tracks.

''I'm going to brief them [board members] on everything I've done on site analysis,'' Winter said. ''Most important thing will be what's been done on the temporary facility.''

''That has the potential to become almost immediately operative,'' he said.