Buffalo Thunder Casino Turns Off Slot Machines: Martinez Threatens Action

Buffalo Thunder Casino Lawsuit New Mexico

Buffalo Thunder turned off its leased slot machines, but not the 1200 EGMs it owns outright.

The Buffalo Thunder Resort and Casino has decided to shut down 30 slot machines, because of a recent threat made by Gov. Susana Martinez. The decision is the latest in a years-long standoff between the Pojoaque Pueblo tribe and the state’s Republican governor.

Recently, Gov. Martinez threatened to invalidate the licenses of any slot machine manufacturer which supply gaming machines to the Pojoaque Pueblo casino. It is the latest salvo in a standoff which has lasted 3 years.

The casino which were turned off were being leased to the Buffalo Thunder Casino by top manufacturers like IGT, Scientific Games, and WMS Gaming. Card shuffling machines produced by Bally Technologies also were shut down.

1200 Slot Machines Still Running

Roughly 1,200 slot machines remain operational in the Buffalo Thunder complex. Those gaming machines are owned by the Pojoaque Pueblo and it is believed the governor would not retroactively pull the licenses of their distributors, for sales that were made years ago.

One wonders whether Gov. Martinez would have made good on her threats in the first place. International Game Technology, WMS Gaming, and Scientific Games distribute gaming machines to other brick-and-mortar casinos in the state. To have delicensed those gaming machine companies, she would have had to shut down slot machine gambling across the state.

Federal Court Decision in February 2017

Susana Martinez made the threat after the State of New Mexico won a decision in a federal court las month. The United States District Court in Albuquerque ruled that the New Mexico Gaming Control Board could take actions against companies which supported the Buffalo Thunder Casino.

The Pojoaque Pueblo Tribe has been operating the Buffalo Thunder Casino and the nearby Cities of Gold Casino without gaming licenses since June of 2015. That was when the old gaming compact with the state expired. Governor Martinez argues that the tribe has been operating illegally ever since that time.

State Negotiating in Bad Faith?

The Pojoaque Pueblo argue that the governor was negotiating in bad faith, because she wanted to increase the percentage of taxation on the casino. Under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, Native American reservations which are recognized by the U.S. Department of the Interior are considered sovereign territory. Those which were recognized by the Interior Department before 1932 (or which receive special licensing from the state) are allowed to open tribal casinos.

Though they are considered sovereign lands, tribes must agree to a compact with the state in which they are located. The state regulates tribal gaming and receives tax revenues, but those taxes cannot exceed the cost of regulation. If the state grants special concessions — such as a monopoly on certain types of games — then the state can negotiate a larger percentage of the gaming revenues. This plan has worked brilliantly in states like California and Florida, where tribal gaming is a billion-dollar business for the state.

The Pojoaque Pueblo Indians argue that the administration of Gov. Susana Martinez demanded a tax raise without giving special concessions. Thus, the tribe argues that the tax increase is illegal.

Damon Martinez Fired by Jeff Sessions

Previously, the U.S. Attorney for the District of New Mexico, Damon Martinez, had granted the tribe the right to continue operating under the terms of their old compact until an agreement was made. Damon Martinez was one of 46 US attorney generals asked to resign by US Attorney General Jeff Sessions last Friday. Thus, the tribe’s legal standing took a second hit in a month’s time.

Currently, the Pojoaque Pueblo are awaiting the results of an appellate decision in the United States Tenth Circuit Court Of Appeals in Denver. If that decision goes against the tribe, things will look grim for the Buffalo Thunder and Cities of Gold casinos.

Joe Talachy Warns US Gaming Tribes

As tribal president, Joe Talachy, told the Santa Fe New Mexican newspaper, “The damage was already done with the New Mexico Gaming Control Board, which threatened them with pretty heavy fines. We’re in a squeeze.

The Pojoaque Pueblo leader had a message for the other tribes in the state, who might see the fall of a competitor as good news. If the State of New Mexico wins the right to raise taxes without concessions, it can do the same for the other tribes in New Mexico. And if that principle stands in New Mexico, it could stand anywhere else in the United States which has tribal casinos.

Joe Talachy said, “We’re fighting for every other tribe in this country.”