Pojoaque leaders give up fight, agree to sign new gambling compact

Pojoaque Pueblo operates Buffalo Thunder Resort & Casino, pictured, and other gambling operations. New Mexican file photo

Four companies that provided slot machines to Pojoaque Pueblo while it was operating casinos in violation of federal law have settled with the state Gaming Control Board, which had threatened not to renew the companies’ licenses to do business in New Mexico with nontribal casinos, including those at horse-racing tracks.

The threats, which eventually resulted in some slot machines and table games being shut down at Pojoaque Pueblo casinos, added pressure on the tribe to agree to a new gaming compact with the administration of Gov. Susana Martinez, whose appointees control the Gaming Control Board. The pueblo had objected to a compact provision requiring it to continue to share slot revenues with the state.

As part of the settlements with the Gaming Control Board, the slot manufacturers agreed to make payments to the board. But the agency, in releasing copies of the settlement agreements in response to a public-records request, redacted the payment amounts. A board lawyer said in a letter to The New Mexican that the payment amounts were derived from information provided by the companies and, therefore, exempt from public disclosure under state law.

The payment amounts agreed to by the slot manufacturers are related to their revenues from Pojoaque Pueblo’s casinos, according to the settlement agreements. Pojoaque Pueblo operates Buffalo Thunder Resort & Casino, pictured, and other gambling operations.

The Gaming Control Board released the agreements 15 days after a request for the documents. Under the state Inspection of Public Records Act, government agencies are required to release public records immediately or as soon as practicable — but no later than 15 days — after a request. The board, in the settlement agreements with the slot makers, had agreed to notify them of any request to inspect the agreements and not to release the documents for 15 days to give the companies time to potentially take legal action to try to block their release.

Albuquerque lawyer Greg Williams, speaking as president of the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government, said a government agency can’t agree to wait 15 days to release public records if the records can be released sooner.

Donovan Lieurance, the acting executive director of the Gaming Control Board, was unavailable for an interview about the settlement agreements, a board spokesman said.

Under their settlement agreements with the board, the four slot makers will have their licenses renewed by the Gaming Control Board to do business with racetracks and veterans and fraternal clubs. The companies also will not face any administrative or enforcement action as a result of their business with Pojoaque Pueblo during the compact dispute.

A decision by the Gaming Control Board to not renew the license of a company for supplying gaming devices to Pojoaque Pueblo could have also threatened the company’s business in other states. That’s because gambling authorities in the lucrative market of Nevada and elsewhere consider adverse licensing actions in other jurisdictions.

Pojoaque Pueblo’s previous gaming compact with the state expired in June 2015, and negotiations between the pueblo and the Martinez administration over a new compact broke down largely over the state’s demand for continued sharing of slot revenues.

Other gaming tribes have agreed to continued revenue sharing with the state, but Pojoaque Pueblo called it an illegal tax.

Pojoaque Pueblo accused the administration of negotiating in bad faith and asked the U.S. Interior Department, which oversees Indian affairs, to approve new procedures for its casinos. The tribe’s effort eventually failed in federal court, and the pueblo last month signed a new compact with the state that requires revenue sharing.

Under federal law, an Indian tribe cannot legally operate a casino without a state-tribal compact, but the U.S. Justice Department had agreed not to take enforcement action against Pojoaque Pueblo while the federal case was pending. The Gaming Control Board, however, decided to move against gaming device suppliers that it had licensed and were doing business with the pueblo after the old compacts expired.

The Gaming Control Board delayed consideration of license renewals for companies doing business with Pojoaque Pueblo and also issued citations.

In a lawsuit filed in federal court, Pojoaque Pueblo attempted to prevent the Gaming Control Board from taking action against the tribe’s vendors, but a judge ruled against the tribe in February. Some slots and table games at Pojoaque Pueblo casinos were darkened as a result of the judge’s ruling.

The agenda from a Gaming Control Board in February show the board met in secret to discuss administrative and enforcement actions against seven slot makers, including some of the world’s largest manufacturers of the devices.

Four of the seven entered into settlement agreements with the board between August and October. Those four were International Game Technology, Aristocrat Technologies, Konami Gaming and Everi Games, whose agreement also extended to its related company, Everi Payments.

Officials with the companies either declined comment or couldn’t be reached for comment.

Konami denied any law violation in its settlement agreement. The agreements with the other three companies said the deals shouldn’t be construed as admissions of wrongdoing.

Contact Thom Cole at 505-986-3022 or tcole@sfnewmexican.com.