Gaming is Big Business - June 9, 2011

The possibility of a casino in Anthony, New Mexico along the New Mexico/Texas border is still alive...

New Mexico lawmakers, never eager to raise taxes, saw that other states were generating big bucks via lotteries and Indian gaming, and approved these new ventures in the mid 1990s.  Many politicians also saw Indian gaming as an opportunity to increase tourism and provide jobs. 

There was opposition including some church groups, others concerned with gambling addiction, the hospitality industry (hotels and restaurants) and other business organizations that felt gaming might negatively impact their businesses or that it would not generate new dollars, but merely “recycle” the local dollars.   There were those who also knew that with money, the various Native American pueblos, tribes and nations, would also become major players on the political and economic fronts.  

Legalized gambling, or if you prefer the sanitized “gaming”, has become a major part of the New Mexico landscape.   Small stake bingo games can be found in almost every community.  The New Mexico Lottery has been in operation since 1996.  There are four race track casinos in the state (the racing commission does not recognize the term “racino”) with another one likely to open sometime down the line.  And there are numerous Indian casinos.

The largest proliferation of casinos is basically from I-40 north.  There are several casinos in the Albuquerque area, one along I-25 and several in the Rio Grande corridor from Santa Fe to Taos.  The Navajos, who entered the casino business late, are opening their third casino January, 2012 just outside Farmington.  Their other casinos are near Gallup and Shiprock.   In the southeast part of the state there is the race track and casino in Ruidoso, two Indian casinos nearby on Mescalero land and the facility in Hobbs.   In the south central part of the state Sunland Park enjoys access to the 2 million person population of El Paso/Juarez plus Las Cruces.  

The possibility of a casino in Anthony, New Mexico along the New Mexico/Texas border is still alive.  Santa Fe businessman Gerald Peters and Jemez Pueblo were attempting to put a full fledged off reservation casino there but the Bush administration rejected it.   Apparently new attempts are underway to get it open.

When some of the Indian casinos first opened they were in portable and/or sometimes unattractive buildings.   But that has changed.  The Mescalero’s Inn of the Mountain Gods Resort and Casino outside Ruidoso has amazing views of their beautiful lake, golf course and the majestic nearly 12,000 foot Sierra Blanca Peak, the locale for Ski Apache.   

Sandia Casino is at the base of the mountain of the same name and also offers golf, spa, fine dining and entertainment.  Isleta Pueblo’s Hard Rock Casino is also a full resort with entertainment venues and a 27 hole golf course.

The jewel of the north is the Pueblo of Pojoaque’s Buffalo Thunder Resort nestled between the Sangre de Cristo and Jemez Mountains and also featuring all the amenities of a modern resort.

Much of what was predicted about casinos has happened in one form or another.   Thousands of jobs have been created.  It has helped tourism and attract out of state dollars.  There also is a lot of “local” money and yes, it has created a small percentage of problem gamblers.    

The Lottery, which in 1996 sold $28 million in tickets and had a $6 million profit, sold nearly $144 million in tickets in 2010 and had a profit of $43.6 million which is earmarked for New Mexico resident’s college scholarships.

From 1999 to 2010 the New Mexico racetracks, which are taxed higher than the Indian casinos, generated $508 million dollars in tax revenue and the Indian Casinos paid the state $440 million.

Yes, gaming is big business in New Mexico.

Next Column:  The New Mexico Casinos---Largest to Smallest.

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