Gaming enterprise, Nation 'disappointed' with NM compact failure

By Bill Donovan
Special to the Times

WINDOW ROCK, March 21, 2013

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T he head of the Navajo Gaming Enterprise was not happy to see the New Mexico State Legislature adjourn without taking up a new gaming compact with the state's Indian tribes that have casinos.

Derrick Watchman, who took over as CEO of the enterprise Jan. 1, said gaming officials, as well as members of the Navajo Nation Council, have worked hard over the past several months to get an agreement in place that would be acceptable to all parties.

But he is not the only one disappointed in the lack of action by state officials.

"The Navajo Nation is very disappointed that the Senate for the New Mexico Legislature did not move the compact to the Senate floor for a vote as required by law," Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly said in a statement released by his office on Monday.

The release said that as a result of the Senate delaying a vote on the matter until 2014 (unless a special session is scheduled), the "Navajo Nation's investment into the gaming industry is jeopardized and it also places 950 jobs at risk."

That may be a little bit of an overstatement because the indications were that the Senate, like the House, was willing to go along with the new compact since it provided the state with a slightly larger share of the profits from the slot operations at the tribal casinos.

The problem was not opposition to the compact, said Watchman, but time.

Although tribal casino officials from the Navajo and other tribes were working for several months on the agreement, it wasn't until the last week of the legislative session that the proposed compact went before the Navajo Nation Council for ratification.

Though it was approved, it got lost in the shuffle as the legislature found itself bogged down with numerous other pieces of legislation that needed to be addressed in the waning hours of this year's session.

The compact, which was to have been introduced by State Sen. George Munoz (D-Gallup and McKinley County) did not even make it to the Senate floor for a vote.

Speaker of the Council Johnny Naize (Blue Gap-Tachee/Cottonwood-Tselani/Low Mountain/Nazlini) pointed out that the Navajo Nation first began working on the new compact in 2008.

"Unfortunately, our five-year effort to present the compact before the legislature was viewed as rushed," he said.

The current compact still has three years to run so the fact that there was no decision this year will have no immediate affect on any of the Indian casino tribes.

But Watchman said his concern is that a delay will result in the state coming back and looking for more concessions from the casino tribes.

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