Lawmakers have given final approval to new gambling agreements with Indian tribes that will increase the state's share of tribal casinos in exchange for extending the term of compacts for 30 years.
The House voted 53-16 Wednesday to endorse the gambling compacts negotiated by Gov. Bill Richardson and tribal representatives. The Senate approved the agreements a day earlier.
The next step is for Richardson and individual tribes to sign compacts and then they must be approved by the secretary of the U.S. Interior Department.
"We worked diligently for nearly four years to negotiate a better compact that sets firm limits on gaming, provides more state oversight of tribal casinos and increases revenue to the state," Richardson said in a statement after the House vote.
Ten of the 13 tribes with casinos are backing the agreements, which amend compacts approved six years ago.
"I am confident that the tribes and New Mexico negotiated in good faith and what we're doing here will benefit the whole state of New Mexico, including the tribes," said Rep. Dan Silva, D-Albuquerque, vice chairman of a legislative committee that had reviewed the compacts.
Provisions of the new compacts:
–Will be effective until 2037. Current compacts expire in 2015.
–Higher tribal revenue sharing payments to the state, providing an additional $650 million by 2037. That projection is based on all 13 tribes agreeing to the new compact. The maximum payment to the state would increase from 8 percent to 10.75 percent of tribal slot machine proceeds. Currently, the state receives about $50 million a year.
–Cap the number of casinos each tribe can operate at two. However, Laguna Pueblo could keep its three current casinos.
–Limit off-reservation racetracks at six, up from five now. The number of slot machines at tracks would be capped at the current 750.
Rep. Larry Larranaga, R-Albuquerque, said the state should wait to negotiate new compacts until the existing gambling agreements are close to expiring.
"It really is not good for the state of New Mexico to just open it up for another 30 years," he said.
The Mescalero Apache tribe, Pojoaque Pueblo and Acoma Pueblo currently are not in support of the new compact. If they don't sign a new compact, they would continue to operate under current agreements expiring in 2015.
Before the House voted, lawmakers heard public testimony from supporters and opponents of the compact amendments.
Tesuque Pueblo Gov. Charlie Dorame, chairman of the New Mexico Indian Gaming Association, said the longer term of the new compacts would allow tribes to obtain more favorable financing for economic development and infrastructure projects. Casinos, he stressed, are the main source of revenue for tribes.
"The extended term will provide tribes with long-term financial security for the foreseeable future," Dorame said.
Critics said the compacts lacked adequate regulation of casinos, but would permit more casinos to be established by tribes and didn't do enough to address problems of compulsive gamblers.
Guy Clark of the New Mexico Coalition Against Gambling urged House members to resist political pressures on them and "do the right thing" by voting against the agreements.
"I know you are under tremendous pressure," said Clark. "The governor is just absolutely, totally committed to having these compacts pass."