While Opportunity to Expand Gambling in New Mexico Grows Controversy Looms

Gambling New Mexico Grows

  • Native American tribal leaders at odds with proposed changes to expand gaming in New Mexico
  • Tribes contend any new changes violate compact agreements made in 2015
  • New Mexico seeks a new source of tax funding through expansion to aid Covid-19

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It seems relatively evident as momentum continues throughout the US legalizing sports wagering; progress is being potentially stalled among states accruing involvement with Native American tribes. New Mexico has been among the smaller group of states flying under the radar of these states gathering headlines over the past months debating gaming issues.

Native American leaders in New Mexico are currently raising concerns about a proposal by non-tribal racetracks and casinos to overhaul the gaming industry and open the state toward “Las Vegas-style” gaming.

The financial crux of the issue is an opportunity to earn a forecasted $62 million more in tax dollars by allowing the proposed change. Most critically, allowing online gaming could provide the state as much as a potential $15 million in tax revenue, according to industry experts.

Current NM Gaming Status

Like other Native American tribes across the US, New Mexico tribes maintain gaming compacts that provide them virtual control over the state’s gambling activity. The sole exception is the state comes within their racinos, allowing them to operate up to 600 slot machines for up to 18 hours per day.

The expansion upsets the tribes who say that any potential expansion violates their existing compact agreements made in 2015. The compacts provide the state from 2-10.5% through revenue sharing but with protection that allows gaming exclusivity within their respective regions. In response, the state’s viewpoint is to cancel the existing compacts to allow the commercial casinos and racinos to an unlimited amount of slot machines, table games, online gaming, and new sports gambling options. All would also have unlimited time restraints.

New Mexico Tribes Response

The tribes testified during a legislative meeting on Monday that potentially allowing unlimited slot machines, table games, online gambling, and now sports wagering at New Mexico casinos and horse tracks would shift the market. Also, that they violate exclusivity provisions outlined in existing revenue-sharing compacts that tribes have maintained with the state. Tribal leaders said that would compromise the ability to bring in money for their individual communities.

In the meeting, the governor of Sandia Pueblo, Stuart Paisano, asserted that expansion efforts are out of the question and suggested the idea that the proposed move could lead to serious problems. “This proposed legislation presents not only a renewed challenge to our economic security but a reckless attempt to expand private wealth at the expense of our ability to provide essential government services,” Gov. Paisano said.

Another issue is the tribes are concerned that New Mexico possibly has intentionally hidden any discussion of gambling from them. They have accused the state of scheduling a hearing on the legislative agenda for only current members of casinos and racinos to testify. That member of tribal nations was given only limited notice before the hearing was to take place. There are currently more than a dozen Native American tribes within New Mexico who have legal federal support.

The current issue in New Mexico echoes a trend that other US states are facing. Many US native tribes are seemingly unwilling to further negotiate toward commercial gaming change, especially involving the new legislation for sports wagering. Timing may be critically involved as the state is in a deficit because of Covid-19 with gambling expansion being a helpful cure. The bad news is like other states that the issue does not look to be resolved any time soon.

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Larry Gibbs

Expert on Sports Betting Industry

Larry Gibbs is both a seasoned journalist and a respected online gaming industry consultant. His wry commentary & sharp analysis have appeared in numerous top gaming and sports wagering publications. He has also served as Vice President of US Gaming Services, a marketing research organization with 15 years of experience in US online wagering. He has spoken at noted gaming industry conferences including G2E, GiGSE, and NCLGS.

Email: larry.gibbs@wsn.com