7-6 Another casino for southern New Mexico?
SANTA FE – The battle is hot and heavy over whether Southern New Mexico needs another Indian casino. Jemez Pueblo has been trying for years to get clearance to open a casino near Anthony 300 miles to the south.
The U.S. Department of the Interior is considering the application as of July 1. Many good arguments, pro and con, have been advanced over the past several months.
The Jemez application was set aside by the Bush administration several years ago because the proposed casino was not within commuting distance of the pueblo.
That requirement was not part of the federal law authorizing Indian gaming. It was a policy decision termed a "guidance memo," issued by the administration of former President George W. Bush.
Early in the administration of President Barack Obama, the Department of the Interior indicated it would be willing to review the rejection of applications by the Bush administration that were based on distance.
In late June, the guidance memo was rescinded. Up until that time, both sides, assuming the memo would be rejected, made arguments to the Department of the Interior for and against approval of the casino.
The public comment period ended July 1. The Department of the Interior will now, at some point, make a decision on the Jemez casino at Anthony.
David Wilson, a marketer for the proposed casino says approval of the Jemez application will not set a precedent as has been claimed. Off-reservation casinos have been approved in several different states, some at a greater distance from their tribe than is the case here.
The major opponent of the Anthony casino is the Mescalero Apache tribe, which operates casinos over 100 miles away. There are no other Indian casinos in Southern New Mexico. There are three horse track casinos, which offer slot machine gambling ,in Southern New Mexico.
The closest is the nearby Sunland Park track and casino. It has strongly opposed the Anthony casino but since it does not come under the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, its objections do not carry the weight of a tribe with a casino.
The New Mexico Indian Gaming Association, which represents tribal casinos in the state, opposes the Jemez plan, according to Mark Chino, president of the Mescalero Apache tribe.
It must have been a very close vote because Wilson tells me that a majority of the 19 pueblos in the state either are in support of the Jemez plan or have agreed not to oppose it.
Most of the Indian casinos in the state are pueblo owned. At least 10 of them are clustered in an area ranging from Albuquerque to Espanola. The population in that area is far less than the population the same distance from Anthony.
According to Wilson, the population around Albuquerque is under 800,000, with 7,250 slot machines, while the population of Dona Ana County and El Paso is well over 900,000, with only 700 slots. That's not counting the 2 million population of Juarez, which provides a significant market.
The Fort Sill Apache Tribe in Oklahoma has weighed in on the Jemez request, disagreeing with some of the Pueblo's contentions and suggesting that Apaches have a much greater claim to Southern New Mexico being their homeland than do the pueblos.
That contention is not entirely accurate, however. Spanish colonist Juan de Onate met his first Pueblo Indians near the present Las Cruces on his journey north in 1598. They were the Piro, Manso and Tiwa Indians.
Later, during the Pueblo Revolt of 1680, the Spanish , fleeing southward, were joined by members of the Isleta Pueblo, who also were Tiwa and took refuge in the Piro, Manso and Tiwa vicinity. The Tigua Tribe, south of El Paso, also is a Pueblo tribe.
Finally, the Fort Sill Apaches, of Oklahoma, would like to open gaming on property they purchased at Akela, west of Las Cruces. But Wilson says they had to agree not to use the land for gaming.
JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
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