Free Play at the Isleta Resort and Casino

At the October 14th community meeting, Tribal Attorney, Kaydee Culbertson, gave a presentation on the “free play” dispute between the State of New Mexico and gaming tribes. 

She explained that the Isleta Casino and many other casinos prior to 2010 and through 2015 gave “free play” to its customers. She said, free play is when casinos give credits to patrons to gamble. They cannot exchange the credits for cash. They can only use the credits to gamble at machines or on other games. The credits have no value except to allow a customer to gamble.

Culbertson explained, that the State of New Mexico believes that the free play credits should be counted as cash — as if customers put their own money into a machine. This would force tribes to pay more money to the State under the revenue sharing agreements.

According to Culbertson, the State came up with a formula that would require the Pueblo of Isleta to pay the State more than $10 million dollars for a 4-year period beginning April 2011 thru July of 2015. The State, however, did not provide any information on how it came up with the $10 million-dollar calculation.

So, Isleta, Sandia and Tesuque filed a federal lawsuit against the State to stop it from collecting millions of dollars based on free play. Culbertson said, that the suit is still at its beginning stages and there has not been any court hearings yet. She feels that tribes have a good case because the State has been unable to support its numbers or its claims against the Pueblos.

At the end of Culbertson’s presentation, Phillip Jojola, a tribal member, commented that tribal officials needed to stop getting “freebies” from the casino. He said that we all need to pay the same amount for tickets to concerts and rooms at the hotel.

Jojola said that he knew only one council member who “donates” his concert tickets or gives them out as a prize and — “that’s Juan Rey Abeita.” But, Jojola felt that the Tribe should just do away with those “freebies.”

Editorial Comment

In 2009, the Isleta Tribal Council secretly enacted Council Resolution No. 2009-001. This Resolution allows Council Members to give themselves “up to four (4) complimentary tickets to enter into any sporting and similar events staged at the Isleta Resort and Casino.”

In addition to free concert tickets, Isleta tribal officials have routinely given themselves other types of “freebies” that we will probably never know about. It’s a conspiracy of silence because they all have dirty hands.

Indeed, Isleta tribal officials have given themselves free hotel suits and the Casino has also paid expenses for their private parties. So, where is the Isleta Gaming Regulatory Agency (“Agency”)?  The “Agency” is supposed to be preventing this type of abuse.

Sadly, the Isleta Gaming Regulatory Agency has failed to protect the Casino and Casino employees from tribal officials who abuse their offices. The “Agency” is weak. It kneels to tribal officials.

It failed to prevent a tribal attorney and tribal officials from giving themselves free hotel rooms. To this very day, the Isleta Gaming Regulatory Agency has done absolutely nothing to investigate how a tribal attorney and tribal officials were able to give themselves free hotel rooms.

So, what safeguards are in place to prevent tribal officials from coercing casino management?

What safeguards are in place to prevent casino management from using casino credit cards to pay for the perks of tribal officials?

Where are those “regulations”? And, how are they enforced?

Georgene Louis is the current Executive Director of the Isleta Gaming Regulatory Agency. I sent her a letter regarding these issues. And, of course, she ignored the letter.

Louis is a NM State Legislator. She represents District 26 of Bernalillo County. The Isleta Tribal Council selected her to be the Executive Director because she is a State Representative. The Council believes that it gives us some type of “advantage” to have Louis serving as the Executive Director because she is a State Legislator.

So, the Council gave Louis a special contract. She is not a regular employee of the Pueblo. The terms of her contract are secret. Her rate of compensation is secret. She cannot be fired “at-will” like any other employee of the Pueblo because of her special contract. So, why would she ever do anything to investigate any of the Council Members who control her contract?