New Mexico Tribes Voice Concerns About Gambling Expansion Proposal

  • Non-tribal parties pushing for unlimited land-based gambling, sports betting, online gaming
  • Tribe leaders warned expansion would violate current gaming compacts with state
  • Tribes fear diluted sector would compromise ability to generate money for their community
  • Lawmakers acknowledged need for further data on impact of gambling expansion 
  • No longer having to share gaming revenue with state among tribe benefits, proponents say
wooden sign indicating New Mexico direction against a desert backdrop
Native American tribe leaders in New Mexico are concerned about the impact of the gambling expansion plans proposed by non-tribal racetracks and casinos in the state. [Image:]

Providing public feedback

Native American leaders in New Mexico have raised concerns about a proposal by non-tribal racetracks and casinos to significantly expand gambling in the state.

Tribe leaders provided their public feedback on the expansion plans for the first time during a legislative meeting on Monday. They outlined how allowing unlimited slot machines, table games, sports betting, and online gambling at non-tribal racinos would bring about a significant market shift. 

expansion would violate the current revenue-sharing compacts

Gambling expansion would violate the current revenue-sharing compacts between the state and the tribes, the leaders believe. A diluted gambling sector, they said, would compromise the tribes’ ability to generate money for their communities.

Sandia Pueblo Governor Stuart Paisano described the proposed legislation as “a reckless attempt to expand private wealth at the expense of our ability to provide essential government services.” Tribe leaders also highlighted how they were only contacted a few days before non-tribal gambling representatives provided testimony to a different legislative panel. At least a dozen tribes have expressed concern to date. 

Need for further data

Lawmakers acknowledged on Monday that the proposed plans could have a significant impact on tax revenue. They agreed that further data would be necessary to gain a better understanding of the potential fiscal implications of gambling expansion, as well as of the possible repercussions on tribal communities. 

Certain legislators observed that the COVID-19 pandemic has caused issues for gambling facilities in New Mexico, amid uncertainty about allowing a sixth racino in the state. These issues too would have an impact on any forecasts.

The legislative economic and rural development committee chairperson, Democratic Representative Antonio Maestas, spoke about the state’s need to boost revenue. Referring to the idea of gambling expansion, he said: “This is definitely a topic that is deserving of a conversation.”

Specifics of the expansion plan

Racetrack executives behind the proposal believe expanded gambling activity would give tourism in New Mexico a boost. The changes would also help the state’s horse racing industry to survive. 

$70m in annual funds able to go into tribal program investments

The tribes, they added, would no longer have to share revenues with the state, with an estimated $70m in annual funds able to go into tribal program investments. Other potential benefits would include online gaming negotiations, the ability to serve alcohol on the gaming floor, a cap on non-tribal competition, and more tourism opportunities. 

The overarching benefit for the tracks would be “large and stable racing purses” to make up for tribal gaming revenue. Limits on opening hours and the number of gaming machines allowed would be removed. Table games, sports betting, and online gaming would all be available, while the gaming facilities could start offering lines of credit to patrons.

Finally, the proposal outlines the advantages for the state. Most notably, the expansion would help keep gambling revenue at current levels, increasing it over time. Other benefits include streamlining different forms of regulation, attracting more tourists, and providing opportunities to boost tax revenue.

Starting a conversation

Scott Scanland, a lobbyist for New Mexico’s Sunland Park Racetrack and Casino, said on Monday that the new proposal is only an idea. He added that the track executives want to begin a conversation about growing the gambling sector into something that attracts a wider demographic, benefiting other areas of the local economy.

The goal of gambling expansion in New Mexico is to boost the state’s declining gambling sector. Both the tribal gaming operations and the racinos have seen their revenues drop in the past few years, even before the pandemic outbreak.

A report in 2019 by legislative analysts registered a 10% drop in annual tribal gaming revenue share reaching the state coffers between 2012 and 2018.

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