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    New Mexico pueblo’s casinos are key to scholarship program

    January 12, 2015

    SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — Negotiations between tribes and New Mexico over new gambling compacts could have a significant effect on tribal education.

    Tribes and pueblos in New Mexico say revenue from their casinos has been crucial in developing scholarship programs and boosting graduation rates. Several pueblos in the state have been putting more gambling funds each year into college scholarships, the Santa Fe New Mexican reported Saturday (http://bit.ly/14koA4H).

    Leaders of the Pojoaque (poh-WAH’-kay) Pueblo, which operates two casinos north of Santa Fe, said their scholarship program is why the tribe’s graduation rate is currently 85 percent, compared with 50 percent a decade ago. According to the pueblo, 44 scholarship students have graduated from college since 2006. The tribe only graduates six high school students a year.

    George Rivera, who recently stepped down as the pueblo’s governor, said the program is now in its 25th year. The growing scholarship program has turned the “conversation from ‘Am I going to graduate high school?’ to ‘What college will I attend?,’ ” he said.

    Felicia Rivera, head of Pojoaque’s education program, said the $1.5 million set aside for college scholarships each year comes from gambling. Students can receive a full ride and potentially graduate debt-free.

    The tribe intends to keep the momentum going, Rivera said. “Our intention is to keep supporting the education department with gaming revenues,” she said.

    Gambling enterprises have been a source of contention between some tribes and the state. The Pojoaque Pueblo and Gov. Susana Martinez‘s administration have failed to agree on a new gambling compact to replace one set to expire this summer. The pueblo sued the state in December 2013.

    Issues between the sides have included the tribe’s proposed provisions to halt payments to the state, lower the gambling age to 18 from 21 and allow alcohol to be served in gambling areas. The pueblo’s lawsuit also alleged Martinez’s administration wanted to raise how much money the tribe paid the state.

    The pueblo attempted to negotiate with the federal government instead. The state, in turn, sued the U.S. Interior Department. A federal judge sided with the state and agreed the pueblo was illegally preventing the state from approving a compact. The Interior Department and the pueblo both filed notices of appeal last month.

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