FARMINGTON — The way the Navajo Nation and the state of New Mexico conduct gaming could change based on how discussions go next month.

The tribe and state have been in talks since November because their current agreement, or tribal-state gaming compact, is due to expire in 2015.

The compact covers everything from how gaming is regulated on the reservation to who regulates it, and who profits from it.

It would be ideal to bring the issue to the state Legislature during the 2013 regular session, which runs from Jan. 15 to March 16. Waiting until 2014 likely would delay a new agreement because the 2014 session is scheduled to last only 30 days and review only fiscal budget items. The compact would expire and have no replacement.

"Next year might be too late," said Erny Zah, spokesman for the Office of the President of the Navajo Nation.

The current compact needs updating before it is renewed, according to both sides. It is unclear what would change.

"These are discussions that are taking place right now, discussions that I'm not privy to," said Jerome Clark, spokesman for the Office of the Speaker of the Navajo Nation Council.

Likely the most contentious point will be profits, almost always a soft spot when it comes to negotiations about tribal-gaming compacts. Many other tribes in the nation also have compacts with their home states under the 1988 Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, which requires tribes to work with state and federal agencies if they want to have gaming on their lands.


Many of the tribes have had issues figuring out how much of their revenue goes to the state. Some states, such as Utah and Hawaii, will not even enter into a compact.

"We have no problem compacting with tribes, though there are times when we disagree about the language of the compacts," said David Norvell, a member of the New Mexico Gaming Control Board.

The discussions are between the Navajo Nation's negotiating team, a group of attorneys and industry experts who deal with the state on the tribe's behalf.

The state also has a team.

"We're here today to get you to start thinking about this, and get it on your radar," said Karis Begaye, an attorney from the Navajo Nation Department of Justice and a member of the tribe's negotiating team.

Begaye spoke to the Navajo Nation's Law and Order Committee on Sunday to bring the issue to the attention of the committee. To get before the state Legislature in time, the committee, as well as the Naa'bik'iyati' Committee, the highest Navajo Nation committee, will have to approve any changes to the compact.

If the Navajo Nation does not have a compact in place by the expiration date, the Department of Interior likely would have to "step in and force a compact," according to new Navajo Nation Gaming Enterprise Chief Executive Officer Derrick Watchman.