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N.M. Gaming Board says Native-owned casinos owe the state $15 million

Last Tuesday, David Norvell, the board chair of the New Mexico Gaming Control Board, which oversees the integrity of gaming regulations at licensed racetracks and monitors tribal gaming activity in the state, told lawmakers at a meeting of the Legislative Finance Committee that various Native American tribes owe the state about $15 million in casino revenue.

“It’s a figure we feel comfortable with,” said Norvell, whose board will preside over an Indian Affairs Committee presentation next Wednesday. “Although it’s probably higher, and the figures go back to about 2004, we’re more positive about the information from 2007 on. And not all of them are doing this, but definitely more than half of them have.”

Hampered by budget cuts to its department over the past several years, Norvell said the figure also represents a different interpretation of 2004 and 2007 tribal compacts, and that the discrepancy in revenue has been a controversial issue between the Board and the Native-owned casinos for the past three years. “They’ve become more resistant to paying this, so it’s come to a point of seeking arbitration to settle it,” said Norvell.

The tribes claim that the Control Board has misread the compacts that govern the distribution of moneys generated through their casinos, while Norvell and the board argue that their reading is the right one. He Expected to go to arbitration sometime in the first quarter of next year, at a possible cost of $1 million, and a process that could drag on for several months at least, Norvell said the whole issue is far less complicated than people might think, and the quicker the two sides get into an arbitrator’s purview, the better.

“We may win, we may lose, we’re not saying we’re 100 percent right,” said Norvell. “The arbitrator has to determine whose interpretation is correct. But if they’re in the wrong then they should pay their fair share of what they owe.”

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