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Know the West

Gambling with the future?

  Gambling has been an economic jackpot for a handful of Indian tribes in recent years. But in northern New Mexico, some members of the Taos Pueblo fear that plans to add a five-star resort hotel and casino may bankrupt their tribe.

The Taos Pueblo opened the Taos Mountain Casino, its first, two years ago to raise money to pay off a $12 million land purchase. Since then, the casino has struggled to survive. Last year, an $800,000 annual land payment and a 16 percent royalty collected by the state threatened to bankrupt the operation.

Now, the pueblo's enterprise board, the tribal entity which operates the casino, wants to open a second casino in the 37-year-old Kachina Lodge on the north side of Taos. The tribe could spend upwards of $36 million to buy and renovate the lodge, and some tribal members fear the expansion will lead to economic disaster. They say the existing casino isn't paying for the educational and social services it promised the tribe.

"By now, we should have millions of dollars coming into the pueblo, but there's nothing," says Jonathan Warm Day, a member of Residents in Support of Education (RISE).

So far, tribal leaders have refused to address the issue of gambling profits. Tom Teegarden, executive director of the enterprise board, says expanding gambling operations is a sound investment. "Of course, it will benefit the pueblos and absolutely it will benefit the community," he says.

The 50 members of RISE have taken the issue to the New Mexico congressional delegation, asking the Senate Panel on Indian Affairs to investigate. "We'll shut the casino down," says pueblo member Frank Concha. "We'll shut the government down."

*Sara Ford