Key things to know as New Mexico lawmakers weigh new gambling compact for tribal casinos

Industries Associated Press

New Mexico lawmakers are facing a hard deadline as agreements that allow a handful of American Indian tribes to operate casinos approach their expiration date.

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Gov. Susana Martinez's office has spent the past three years working with tribes to craft a new gambling compact that supporters say would bring stability to New Mexico's gaming industry, protect jobs and increase revenues to the state.

However, some lawmakers say New Mexico is veering off course.

Senate Finance Chairman John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, suggests the state has deviated from its initial plan nearly two decades ago of trying to strike a balance between revitalizing the horse racing industry, providing economic opportunities to sovereign American Indian nations and making sure the state lottery was well-established.

Tribal leaders argue thousands of jobs and millions of dollars in revenue are at stake.

The public can testify on the proposal Saturday before the Legislature's compact committee. Here are some things to know:

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THE MONEY

Tribes that operate casinos in New Mexico reported more than $731 million in net winnings in 2014. Net winnings are the amount wagered on gaming machines, less the prizes won on those machines and regulatory fees.

State officials say the tribes paid New Mexico more than $66 million last year under revenue-sharing agreements that call for the state to ensure gambling exclusivity for them in exchange for a percentage of net winnings.

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THE PLAYERS

Fourteen tribes have gambling agreements with the state.

Deals with the Navajo Nation, Mescalero and Jicarilla Apache tribes and Acoma Pueblo expire in June. For the tribes to continue running their casinos, the Legislature and the U.S. Interior Department must approve new compacts.

Jemez Pueblo doesn't have a casino but has signed on to the proposed compact pending before the Legislature. The proposal also allows for the other tribes to sign on.

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HIGH ROLLERS

Under the proposal, tribal casinos could offer a minimum of $10,000 in credit to high-rolling patrons.

Some lawmakers have voiced concerns about extending advances to gamblers, but negotiators say the provision targets a narrow group of casino-goers who don't want to travel with a lot of cash.

To be eligible, they would have to have an annual individual income of at least $200,000, or $300,000 for a couple, and prove they have money in the bank to back up the advance.

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FREEBIES

Tribal casinos would be able to offer complimentary food and lodging, but not alcohol.

Tribes argued the ability to offer comps is an industry standard. The proposed compact would limit the amount of free food and lodging to a percentage of the casino's net winnings.

The tribes also would have to issue quarterly reports quantifying the comps.

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RULES OF THE FLOOR

While tribal casinos could stay open around the clock, the proposed compact would prohibit alcohol sales in areas with gambling machines or tables.

Patrons also would be barred from cashing any government-assistance checks at the casino, such as a Social Security check. EBT cards would be off-limits, and gamblers would have to be 21 or older.

Martinez's chief negotiator, Jessica Hernandez, says the state wanted these "socially responsible" safeguards to remain in place, and tribes agreed.

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PROBLEM GAMBLING

Tribes would have to provide more information to players about resources to treat problem gambling, including bilingual signs at casinos and a hotline.

They also agreed to participate in a self-exclusion program that New Mexico's horse tracks use. It allows problem gamblers to sign up to be barred from casinos.

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WHAT'S NEXT

The Committee on Compacts can't amend the proposed agreement. But it can offer recommendations in the form of a resolution to the rest of the Legislature.

Lawmakers would have to approve the resolution before adjourning March 21.