SANTA FE, N.M. — Gov. Bill Richardson on Wednesday ordered state police to block access to a high-stakes bingo parlor built in southern New Mexico by an Oklahoma-based Indian tribe.
Richardson said he was forced to act after receiving no word from the federal government on whether it would approve or reject the Fort Sill Apache Tribe's planned gaming operation in Akela.
''We have emphatically stated our opposition to what clearly would be an illegal gaming operation in the state of New Mexico,'' Richardson said in a statement. ''Because the federal government is abdicating its responsibility, I have no choice but to take immediate and forceful action to protect the citizens of New Mexico and the integrity of our gaming laws.''
Tribal Chairman Jeff Houser told KRQE-TV of Albuquerque the tribe would not be intimidated or harassed.
''This is completely inappropriate for a governor to meddle in tribal and federal affairs,'' Houser said.
The New Mexico Gaming Control Board said it had learned the gaming operation could open as soon as Thursday, but Houser said the casino was still under construction and it could be a month before it is ready.
Houser had said last week the tribe was working with the National Indian Gaming Commission on regulatory issues.
A message seeking comment left Wednesday with the commission was not immediately returned.
The federal government holds the land in trust for the Fort Sill tribe, which has been erecting portable buildings for the bingo parlor. Houser said last month the bingo parlor is just a test and that the tribe has no specific plans for a full-blown casino.
The governor's office said that when the land was taken into federal trust for the tribe in June 2002, it was done on the condition that it was not to be used for gaming. It also said the tribe passed a resolution stating it would not use the land for gaming.
This month, the gaming commission asked the governor's office for comment on the proposed gaming operation. Richardson's special council on gaming issues responded that the state was opposed.
Under Richardson's order, state police will block access to the site from the general public, but not to tribal members or workers employed by the tribe.
Officers were at the site Wednesday evening, said Peter Olson, a spokesman for the state Department of Public Safety.
The state believes the tribe hasn't met specified exceptions set out in the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act to qualify to game on land taken into trust after October 1988.
Greg Saunders, a spokesman for the New Mexico Gaming Control Board, said a tribe must follow state and federal processes before being allowed to offer either Class 2 gaming, such as high-stakes bingo, or higher levels of gaming that include slot machines and house-backed games.
''You just don't open up a casino,'' he said Wednesday.
The members of the Apache, Okla.-based tribe are descended from the Chiricahua and Warm Springs Apaches of southwestern New Mexico, southeastern Arizona and northern Mexico. Their ancestors were removed from those areas in the 1880s.