Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly urged other tribes and pueblos on February 5 to drop their opposition to the Navajo Nation Gaming Compact, which would allow the tribe to open three additional casinos on the Navajo reservation in New Mexico over 15 years.
Currently the Navajo Nation operates two 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. Its third casino, Twin Arrows, is just east of Flagstaff, Arizona. There are 14 gaming tribes in New Mexico, and five of them—the Navajo Nation, Mescalero Apache Tribe, the Jicarilla Apache Tribe, and the Acoma and Pojoaque pueblos—have been running gaming operations under a 2003 agreement that expires in 2015.
The New Mexico Committee on Compacts voted 12-4 on February 5 to approve the agreement, sending it to the House and Senate for a vote. The New Mexico legislative session ends February 20.
The below video was filmed on location at the Roadhouse in Santa Fe on February 5.
Throughout the series of meetings weighing in on the Navajo Nation Gaming Compact, President Shelly has stressed how their decision will have a major impact on the tribal economy and jobs.
He has also addressed issues concerning geographic restrictions: “…[S]everal tribal leaders raised concerns on the future locations for the Navajo Nation’s gaming facilities along the I-40 corridor and Albuquerque area,” President Shelly said. “While I respect the recommendations from the other tribes, the Navajo Nation will not agree to any geographic restriction.”
Shelly said the provision infringed upon Navajo sovereignty and cited three reasons why the Nation will not agree to the geographic restriction provision. It is the Navajo Nation’s inherent right to develop and pursue any economic venture on our tribal trust lands, he said.
President Shelly said with over 50 percent unemployment on the Nation, any restriction on tribal economic development is not only unfair, but also immoral. Shelly also noted that the geographic restrictions are in violation of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act and that the Department of the Interior would not approve such a provision.
Case in point, he said, is the August 2013 opinion from DOI regarding the Menominee Tribe, which stated that IGRA does not grant an affirmative right for any nearby tribes to be free from economic competition.
In response to comments that gaming facilities should compete with outside gaming industries such a s Las Vegas, President Shelly has said the Navajo Nation Gaming Compact does adopt additional industry standards that meet the Nation’s needs. The two main provisions in the industry standards would allow the Nation’s gaming facilities to be open 24 hours a day, seven days a week; and that food and drinks would be available at a reduced rate under the player’s club program.
Amendments to the 2014 compact removed any reference to Class II gaming, as well as Section 9B by stipulating that the state will continue to have a remedy on any payment claims of the 2001 compact, as long as the state provides notice within two years after the effective date of the gaming compact.
“We are neighbors and we need to foster the government-to-government relationship between the State of New Mexico and the Nation,” President Shelly said. “As two sovereign and independent governments, we must be respectful to the positions, concerns and struggles that the Nation and New Mexico face.
“The Navajo Nation has given its best good faith efforts to negotiate and present a compact to the state that is in the best interest for our Navajo people, New Mexicans and economic development,” he added.