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Sports Betting Heads West As New Mexico Officially Becomes Sixth State To Take Wagers

Fewer than 10 days ago, New Mexico wasn’t even on the radar of many sports betting expansion analysts.

But late Tuesday morning, the Santa Ana Star Casino Hotel in Bernalillo, N.M. began taking its first sports bets.

How did The Land of Enchantment become the sixth state — and only the second west of the Mississippi River — to offer sports betting?

It proved to be as simple as the state’s gaming compacts with Native American tribes within the state not prohibiting sports betting, which is considered Class III gaming under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988.

So once the U.S. Supreme Court opened the floodgates in May for states to make their own decisions on sports betting, the same privilege applied to many tribal sites. The Mississippi Choctaw Indians, for instance, rolled out sports betting at the Pearl River Resort Golden Moon Hotel & Casino last month.

The Pueblo of Santa Ana tribe announced a deal last week with USBookmaking, whose CEO Vic Salerno is a well-known gaming figure in Las Vegas and a member of the Nevada Gaming Hall of Fame.

Who’s next on the Native American front?

A number of experts on Native American gaming interests who spoke at the Global Gaming Expo (G2E) in Las Vegas last week seemed to agree that, well, it’s complicated.

Each state with federally recognized tribes has a layer of potential legal complexities. Also, states where casino gaming is limited to tribal lands like the monopoly and don’t want to see that edge reevaluated as part of a discussion about where sports betting will be permitted.

There also is the issue of the relatively low return on investment. While Bernalillo is only about 10 miles north of Albuquerque in north-central New Mexico, let’s just say that its casino won’t exactly rival the handle of the Meadowlands’ sportsbook in New Jersey. One Native American gaming expert said he expected some tribes to pass on this new opportunity due to the low margins.

New Mexico has now joined Nevada, Delaware, New Jersey, Mississippi, and West Virginia (in that order) in offering legal sports betting. Pennsylvania or Rhode Island could be no. 7 next month, with more to come — whether by the commercial or the tribal route.

A recent congressional hearing in Washington, D.C. had lawmakers and an NFL official grumbling about an expected “race to the bottom” by states to jack up sports betting revenues. That drew a sharp rebuke at G2E last week from David Rebuck’s, New Jersey’s top regulator. New Mexico is getting a little edgier by offering minor league baseball betting, but no, they aren’t offering lines on high school sports contests as alarmists have feared (or claimed to fear).

Finally, it’s not clear yet if New Mexicans will have an online sports betting option anytime soon.

Photo by Alexis Bencomo

John Brennan

John Brennan has covered NJ and NY sports business and gaming since 2002 and was a Pulitzer Prize Finalist in 2008, while reporting for The Bergen County Record.