With mounting support, the Pueblo of Jemez are confident their reconsidered off-reservation hotel and casino in Anthony, New Mexico along the Texas border is a winning bid.
The pueblo lies in Sandoval County in north-central New Mexico between Albuquerque and Santa Fe. While the tribe previously submitted an application for land to be taken into trust for a gaming facility in Anthony, it was denied by the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) on January 4, 2008 on the grounds that the site is located roughly 300 miles from the pueblo—too far to generate jobs for the tribe.
The Obama administration has reopened review on a few off-reservation casinos, including the application by the Pueblo of Jemez.
Currently, eight pueblos in New Mexico, including two gaming tribes—the Pueblo of Acoma, which operates the Acoma, New Mexico-based Sky City Casino, and the Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo, which operates Ohkay Casino Resort & Hotel in San Juan Pueblo, New Mexico—have written letters of support for the “Anthony Project” to the BIA, according to Paul Chinana, Pueblo of Jemez tribal councilman and former governor.
“We are sympathetic to the severe economic hardships and budget problems facing the Pueblo of Jemez and many other Pueblos in the State of New Mexico,” states the letter of support to the BIA from the Pueblo of Acoma Office of the Governor. “We recognize that when it comes to economic development, location is destiny. This is even truer in these difficult economic times. Every tribe should have the right to pursue tribal economic development, self-sufficiency and strong tribal governments.”
Aided by community backing, including several Doña Ana County commissioners and recent endorsements by The Hispano Chamber of Commerce del Las Cruces and the Greater Las Cruces Chamber of Commerce, amongst others, the Pueblo of Jemez stand firmly behind their right to build a casino in Anthony. “We have tremendous support, and every tribe has the right to go after economic development…there was never a distance criteria,” project advisor Benny Shendo Jr. told Indian Country Today Media Network.
Pueblo leaders, which partnered with Santa Fe art dealer Gerald Peters to build the proposed $55 million hotel and casino, promoted their gaming destination at a public forum in Anthony on June 20, reported the El Paso Times. “We are not asking for a tax exempt [status],” Shendo said. “We are not asking for [tax] rebates. We will bring everything and pay our own way. That’s the beauty of this project.”
Jemez Pueblo officials say that the 24-hour casino with slots and table games would create 950 permanent jobs and 570 construction-related jobs. The average paycheck is projected to be $29,200 per year including benefits; 69 jobs will pay more than $54,000 per year, according to the Jemez-Anthony Casino Project website.
The Pueblo of Jemez Tribal Gaming Enterprise anticipates that about 1.7 million visitors would come from Texas to the casino between El Paso, Texas and Las Cruces, New Mexico. Another 568,000 would come to the gaming resort from Mexico or would be interstate travelers from more than 50 miles away, according to the project’s website.
Casino revenue could provide scholarships and improve socioeconomic conditions and infrastructure and housing needs on the impoverished reservation, states the BIA Environmental Impact Statement released in February 2011. If approved, the gaming facility could eventually pay for $261 million in needs at the Jemez Pueblo, in addition to generating money for Anthony and Doña Ana County.
Former Doña Ana County commissioner Enrique Gonzalez, 62, who has lived in Anthony his entire life, welcomes the casino. “We need it,” he told the El Paso Times. “We need the jobs and all the businesses that come with it.”
But a few members of the New Mexico Indian Gaming Association Inc., which represents 11 tribal casino operators throughout the state, recently contended in documents filed with the BIA that the casino will not be the panacea that some say. “First of all, we don’t believe that the project is going to benefit the people of the Jemez Pueblo, because as we argued back then, the developer is the one that appears to be the major beneficiary of the project as opposed to the Pueblo of Jemez and the people of Jemez,” Mark Chino, president of the Mescalero Apache tribe, told the Associated Press. The Mescalero Apache Tribe operates Inn of the Mountain Gods Resort and Casino in Mescalero, New Mexico—roughly 110 miles away from the site and the closest casino to Anthony.
“The operative word in that quote is ‘appears,’” Shendo told ICTMN. “We’ve got a letter from the National Indian Gaming Commission that states the Pueblo of Jemez have proprietary interest in this project.”
The tribe’s plans still require approval from the BIA and New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez, who is reportedly not convinced that the casino’s benefits should override setting a precedent for off-site gaming. “She has indicated that she wants to meet with the tribe, so we are going to do that,” Shendo told ICTMN. “I think our message to the Governor will hopefully be pretty loud and clear—that to the constituents in her area, it’s about jobs—particularly in this economy.”