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Senate Shoots Down Navajo-New Mexico Gaming Compact

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On Wednesday the New Mexico Senate rejected the Navajo Nation's proposed gaming contract that would have increased the number of casinos the tribe operates in the state from two to five over 15 years.

It had passed the House the day prior, Tuesday, February 18, by a 36-30 vote. The compact required approval from the Legislature and the U.S. Interior Department to take effect.

Navajo delegates expressed frustration and disappointment at the 31-10 Senate vote.

“This shows disrespect to the nation,” said Lorenzo Bates, Navajo Council delegate, reported

Navajo President Ben Shelly told The Associated Press, "I always thought that the state of New Mexico has always been friendly to Native Americans. I can't believe that they have only been friendly to a few — the pueblos — and not to the Navajo Nation."

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The Navajo Nation's current 2003 gaming agreement with the state expires in June 2015; the deals of four other tribes expire with New Mexico next year as well: the Mescalero Apache Tribe, the Jicarilla Apache Tribe, and the Acoma and Pojoaque pueblos. The nine other gaming tribes signed a deal with the state in 2007, and they are limited to two casinos each. New Mexico is home to more than 20 casinos operated by 14 tribes and pueblos, as well as five horse-racing tracks that offer slot machines, reported the AP.

The Navajo Nation currently operates two Las Vegas-style casinos in New Mexico—Northern Edge near Farmington and Fire Rock outside of Gallup—as well as a bingo-type gaming facility not subject to state regulation near Shiprock.

The Navajo deal, which would have extended to 2037, was opposed by several pueblos on the basis that the New Mexico gaming market is over-saturated and more casinos operated by the Navajo Nation, the country's largest tribe, would hurt competitors. The Acoma and Laguna pueblos testified before lawmakers that they were concerned the Navajo Nation would try to build a casino on their land near Albuquerque.

Democratic Sen. John Pinto of Gallup, a Navajo who has the most seniority in the Senate, said gaming ensures the tribe's economic vitality, and the proposed compact would have meant more job opportunities for the impoverished Nation.

"The Navajo Nation gambling enterprise has created over 950 jobs, of which 90 percent of those jobs are held by Navajo people," Pinto said. "I see my people able to provide for themselves and their families."