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New Mexico

In New Mexico, Native American tribes are at the center of the gaming universe. Tribal casinos are the biggest players, overshadowing smaller horse racing and lottery operations. More than a dozen different compacts have been signed between Indian groups and the state government, and though there have been some disagreements at times, the industry has been mostly successful here.

On the other hand, online gambling has failed to gain much traction in the legislature. In fact, some steps have been taken to discourage the state from adopting Internet play, leading some to suspect that New Mexico could be a late adopter when it comes to setting up our own regulatory frameworks.

Indian Gaming Dominates Landscape

New Mexico’s modern gambling industry was born in 1946, when parimutuel betting on horse racing began at the La Mesa Park in Raton. Over the decades to come, several more tracks would open, and the New Mexico State Fair would become known as the biggest horse racing meet in the state each year.

In the late 80s, the horse racing industry here began to suffer, as Texas started hosting racing of their own. However, many other forms of gaming would soon spring up. In 1990, with several local tribes considering building resorts on their lands, Governor Bruce King appointed a special task force to work on reaching compacts with both the Mescalero Apache Tribe and the Pueblo of Sandia.

In both cases, the negotiations were successful, and the tribes and the task force agreed to Class III compacts – which would allow the tribes to run full, Las Vegas-style resorts with slots and table games. However, the governor refused to sign the contracts, and they did not go into effect. That decision may have ultimately proved costly for Governor King: in 1994, he would lose a reelection bid during a campaign where the compacts were a major issue.

His opponent, Gary Johnson, had pledged to sign those compacts, and he ultimately set about doing so in 1995. Thirteen compacts in total were signed between the state and various tribes and pueblos. This still didn’t put an end to the process, however: the New Mexico Supreme Court would rule that the governor did not have the authority to accept the compacts on behalf of the state, and it wasn’t until legislative approval came in 1997 that those agreements would finally be put into place.

Eventually, legislators would come up with a more standardized legal framework for approving these compacts, and new agreements would be signed by most tribes in 2001. Two groups held out because of some revenue sharing disputes, but those disagreements would be settled in the years to come, while the Navajo Nation also entered into the gaming landscape in 2003. Today, more than 20 casinos of various size operate in New Mexico, ranging from tiny slots parlors to some large resorts, such as the Fire Rock Navajo Casino in Church Rock.

Along with these locations, gamblers here can also take their chances on the government-backed lottery. First launched in 1995, the New Mexico Lottery has expanded to offer massive multi-state games like Powerball and Mega Millions, along with statewide drawings and dozens of different scratch off tickets.

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Online Regulations off the Table for Now

Despite an abundance of gaming opportunities here, New Mexico’s lawmakers have shown rather little interest in online gambling. In fact, they have made some moves that are outright hostile to the idea in recent years.

One incident in particular stands out as a significant moment in the state’s Internet gaming history. Back in 2013, the government was preparing to enter into a new compact with the Navajo Nation, and it included a strange provision: if the state should ever approve online gambling within its borders, it said, then the tribal group would not have to continue sharing revenues from their slot machines.

The measure was a clear attempt to dissuade any efforts to legalize and license online gambling. Ultimately, it appears as though the language was softened in the final compact, but there have been no real attempts to propose a licensing system for Internet gaming sites since then.

Despite this, however, many players in New Mexico are able to play their favorite casino games over the Internet every day. While the state licensed sites, there are no laws against it, and many companies are happy to accept players residing here. That means that many highly trusted sites from Europe and other parts of the world are available to New Mexicans, and players are free to join and play for real money.

Some Disputes Remain in State

While most tribes in New Mexico now get along rather well with our government, there are still some disputes that continue to crop up from time to time. At least one of these issues has the potential to have a national impact.

In September 2015, the Pojoaque Pueblo argued in front of a federal appeals court, hoping that they would be able to negotiate with the US Interior Department rather than the state government in order to secure a compact they could operate a resort under. The tribe was hoping to overturn a lower court decision against them on the same issue. The disagreement followed a failed attempt to reach a compact in 2013, after the Pueblo had hoped to lower their gaming age to 18 and end its revenue sharing agreement with the state.

In October, the Pueblo won a preliminary injunction against the state, allowing the tribe to – at least for now – continue operating their gaming facilities despite the fact that their compact had expired earlier in the year. The legal battle continues, and should the tribe ultimately win, it could impact how other Native American groups around the country conduct their own negotiations with state governments.

On the online front, it is hard to see any progress being made in the next few years. As we noted earlier, there are even provisions in at least one compact designed to discourage such progress, and lawmakers haven’t said anything to suggest that they would like to start regulating such games. That means that New Mexico is likely a long way off from any sort of Internet gambling – if they ever choose to get into the business at all.

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