6-17 Anthony casino far from a sure thing
SANTA FE -- The Jemez casino at Anthony doesn't look nearly as sure today as it did a month ago when the Bureau of Indian Affairs issued a very rosy draft environmental impact study of the proposal.
Evidently the draft was prepared by the Jemez Pueblo for the BIA's consideration. The negative side of the proposal was not mentioned. But now it is coming out.
The Jemez Pueblo wants to build a casino at Anthony, south of Las Cruces to attract the large population in the El Paso and Juarez area, which don't have casinos.
Jemez has the misfortune of not being located on a major highway. So it has petitioned the BIA to allow it to locate a casino on land it would purchase almost 300 miles to the south.
Obviously few people from Jemez would work at the site but the income from the casino would be very helpful. And Anthony, in an economically depressed area, could benefit from the jobs.
Santa Fe businessman Gerald Peters also is involved in the deal. He would build and operate a hotel at the site. An application by the Jemez and Peters was rejected during the George W. Bush administration. But the current administration is reviewing those rejections.
Other casinos in the area now are letting their thoughts be known. Sunland Park Racetrack and Casino is located about 15 miles to the southwest. The racino contends that another casino in the county would be economically devastating.
The Mescalero Apache tribe, located 100 miles away says it also would be harmed. Somehow, nearly a dozen Indian casinos and a racino are successfully operating in the Albuquerque-Santa Fe area.
The Mescaleros have a point when they contend that the proposed casino would be on land where Apaches once roamed - not the Jemez or any other pueblo.
Gov. Susana Martinez also gets to weigh in on the approval before it is granted. She has said that she is open to considering it but lately has sounded more wary of the arrangement.
Lurking in the background are other issues that could have an even greater effect on the final decision.
If approved, this casino reportedly would be the farthest distance of any casino in the nation from the reservation operating it. And if this one is approved, it could set a precedent for going even farther off a reservation.
The Fort Sill Apaches in Oklahoma want to open a casino at Akela, between Las Cruces and Deming. This was their homeland until the U.S. government moved them out.
After Geronimo's death, the Apache band was allowed to return to the Mescalero Reservation in New Mexico. But some decided to stay in Fort Sill. They are the ones who want to build a New Mexico casino -- but they don't want Geronimo's remains moved back here.
Another issue involves Stan Fulton, owner of Sunland Park Racino. He has candidly said he is willing to spend whatever it takes to keep out any competition. He has given millions to New Mexico State University, which also is named in his will to receive half ownership of the racino upon his death.
The only proviso is that all competition be kept out of Dona Ana County. He has asked NMSU to oppose the Anthony casino. It hasn't, but some of its regents reportedly have personally opposed it.
Numerous business and governmental groups in the area have supported the casino but NMSU doesn't show up on that list either. Fulton is not from the area. He lives in Las Vegas, NV and is in the gaming business,.
The New Mexico Indian Gaming Association also opposes the Jemez request. That is unusual because nearly all the casinos are owned by other pueblos, which usually have good relations.
A few years ago, the Pojoaque and Nambe pueblos traded land parcels so Nambe could have land for a casino fronting the highway, squeezed between the Nambe and Tesuque casinos.
JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail) firstname.lastname@example.org