Pueblos refuse payment to state

SANTA FE, N.M. - Instead of giving the state its required revenues from Pueblo gaming operations, the money will be put into escrow.

The move by the Pueblos most assuredly will prompt legal action by the state.

Three Pueblos which had made regular payments were joined by a fourth on the day payment was due in an announcement they would no longer turn over revenues. The Santa Ana, San Felipe and Sandia pueblos were joined by Laguna Pueblo whose 6-week-old casino would have made its first payment April 25.

The newest dissenters to complain about the high percentage of slot machine revenues paid to the state and other gaming pueblo officials said they welcomed federal court action to determine the legality of the gaming revenue payments. Eight other pueblos and tribes have made no payments in more than two years in protest to the 16 percent take by the state.

Attorney General Patricia Madrid said she will take the state's 12 pueblos which operate casinos to court no sooner than late May.

"Until the court rules, the state will have to do without Indian gaming revenues," Santa Ana Gov. Lawrence Montoya said.

He added that because of the mistrust, misunderstanding and insensitivity in the state Senate, the pueblos were forced to go for all-or-nothing in federal court.

The state Legislature in 1997 passed a compact for all the gaming pueblos that required the state to receive 16 percent of slot machine revenues. The pueblos wanted the percentage reduced to 7.75 percent, but the state Senate rejected a plan to amend the compacts during a recent special session.

Laguna Pueblo Gov. Harry Early said it was not fair for the state to not take action on the compacts. Early said the Laguna Dancing Eagle, the state's newest casino, would not comply with the revenue sharing.

"In all likelihood there will be no further payments, and no partial payments as well," said Frank Chaves of Sandia Pueblo, a spokesman for the New Mexico Indian Gaming Association.

"There is no other option to resolve this issue. We tried and tried without success," Chaves said.

The pueblos are protecting themselves against closure by placing the money in escrow accounts. The Santa Ana Pueblo will deposit $2 million in the account. Should the courts rule against the pueblos, the escrow accounts can be drawn on to pay back revenues to the state. Madrid said that if the court rules in favor of the stat, it would request the casinos be shut down until the back revenues are paid.

Madrid said she would ask the court to require the pueblos to pay all they owe from the date the compact was signed. That could add up to $67 million. Fifteen of the pueblos signed the compact even though at the time only 11 were involved in gaming.

If the pueblos win in court and are successful in negotiating a settlement which could amount to as much as $67 million dollars.

Both sides said the best place for the issue is in federal court, although some still hold out for a negotiated settlement. The latest moves by the state Senate and the pueblos indicate no settlement is in the cards and must be dealt with outside the political arena, pueblo officials said.

Pojaque Gov. Jacob Viarrial still holds out hope for a negotiated settlement. He said he sent a letter to New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson and asked for the negotiations to be reopened.

A spokesman for the governor's office said the letter was received and attorneys were looking into the offer, but had not made any decisions.

Richard Hughes, attorney for the Santa Ana Pueblo, said that starting the negotiating process over would not likely be productive. He said the pueblos put a lot of effort into the rejected compacts and came up with the best compromise they could. The tribes aren't prepared to make larger concessions to attract more votes in the Senate, he said.

The trade-out for paying the revenue was to be exclusive casino operations by the pueblos in the state. They were to receive unlimited number of slot machines and table games such as black jack and craps. All off-reservation casinos and clubs were allowed a set number of gaming devices. Off-reservation racetracks can have up to 300 slot machines and fraternal and non-profit clubs are allowed 15 slots.

"All New Mexicans should be saddened by this prospect. It could have been different," said Ernest Tenorio, chairman of the San Felipe Pueblo Gaming Enterprise Board. Pueblos refuse payment to state.