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Steven Hsieh

Federal Court Issues Blow to Pojoaque

UPDATE: New Mexico can continue issuing citations to vendors who do business with the tribe, judge rules

October 4, 2016, 6:30 am

A federal judge last week ruled that the Susana Martinez administration did not violate the rights of the Pueblo of Pojoaque when it instructed gaming vendors to stop doing business with the tribe’s two major casinos, Buffalo Thunder and Cities of Gold.

Judge James Browning’s opinion, issued Friday, deals yet another blow to the Pueblo of Pojoaque in its long-running dispute with New Mexico over the state’s cut of casino dollars.  

The tribe last year crossed into legal limbo when it refused to sign a new compact that would increase the state’s share of gaming revenue. Pojoaque governor Joseph Talachy maintains the proposed agreement would take away crucial funds from social services, utilities and tribal payroll.

After Pojoaque’s negotiations with the state crumbled, it used a provision in the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act to negotiate directly with the federal Department of the Interior for a new compact.

New Mexico last year filed a lawsuit against the Interior Department challenging that provision, a case that’s awaiting a highly anticipated decision from the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals. 

Pojoaque filed suit against the state in 2015 after the state Gaming Control Board sent citations to vendors who continued selling equipment to the tribe, claiming their doing business with non-compacted casinos violated New Mexico law. The tribe argued that action represented “a throw-back to one of the darkest times in the history of the European conquest, when the pueblos were required to pay a tribute tax, whereby the Spanish confiscated the pueblo’s maize and other resources.”

Judge Browning’s ruling reverses a court injunction against the state that prohibited it from sending citations to vendors doing business with Pojoaque.

“The Defendants have taken no direct action towards Pojoaque Pueblo, nor have they asserted any authority on Pojoaque Pueblo’s lands. The Defendants have not regulated Pojoaque Pueblo; they have only regulated New Mexico licensees,” Browning wrote.

Matthew Fletcher, a Michigan State law professor who runs Turtle Talk, an authoritative blog on indigenous law, says the ruling sends a strong message. "

“It shows New Mexico can’t stop Indian gaming, but they can do anything they want to stop it from making it profitable. They can pinch vendors to try to force tribes to negotiate or capitulate," Fletcher says. 

Michael Lonergan, a spokesman for Gov. Martinez, said in a statement, "We agree with the District Court’s decision to dismiss Pojoaque’s claims. As we’ve said all along, Pojoaque is operating its casinos in violation of federal law and taking advantage of the smaller gaming tribes that have negotiated in good faith and managed their facilities responsibly."

The tribe has already given notice to appeal and plans to seek an emergency order to prevent New Mexico from sending more citations that could hurt the bottom line at Buffalo Thunder and Cities of Gold.

Governor Talachy could be reached for comment.

10/5/16: This story has been updated with comment from Matthew Fletcher and the Martinez administration.


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