New Mexico has become the sixth state with fully legal single-game sports betting in the United States. At noon on Tuesday, Oct. 16, the Santa Ana Star Casino, located 10 miles north of Albuquerque, began accepting sport wagers at its brick-and-mortar sportsbook.
The Santa Ana Star Casino, operated by the Pueblo of Santa Ana Indian tribe, was given the OK for a sportsbook by the Pueblo of Santa Ana Gaming Regulatory Commission. This casino has more than 100,000 square feet of gaming floor space, and it's in the top three among the 15 tribal New Mexico casinos by annual revenue. It hosts slots and table games, like baccarat and roulette, but there's no poker room.
This, the first New Mexico sportsbook, was launched in partnership with USBookmaking, a Nevada firm that manages the sportsbook at Baldini's Casino in Sparks, Nevada and has a full mobile sports betting offering. According to a notice on the website of the Santa Ana Star:
New Mexico's Only Sportsbook
New Mexico's only Sportsbook is now available at Santa Ana Star Casino Hotel. Place bets on your favorite games NFL, NBA, College Football, MLB, College Basketball & more!
The sportsbook is open Monday - Friday, noon to 8 p.m., and weekends, 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. In addition, there are several betting stations and a couple of self-serve kiosks that can be used during other hours. Bets can only be placed by customers while physically located at the Santa Ana Star premises. There's no mobile or online wagering supported.
A decision has been made to not offer betting on local teams, like the collegiate squads of the University of New Mexico and New Mexico State University. Wagers on these college events may be allowed at some time in the future.
Under the terms of the 1992 Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA), most forms of sports-betting were outlawed at the federal level. The exceptions were states that already had sports betting, which were grandfathered in and allowed to continue providing these services. Only Nevada really had fully fledged sportsbook operations while Montana, Oregon, and Delaware had limited and niche forms of this gambling endeavor. All of these instances of state-sponsored activity were able to operate uninterruptedly, but no new types of sports betting were permitted to appear in the United States.
All of that changed in May 2018 when the Supreme Court rendered its decision in the Murphy v. NCAA case. The Court declared PASPA to be unconstitutional and ended the federal-level prohibition on wagering on sports contests. The individual states were now permitted to regulate this form of real money gaming if they so chose.
And some of the states did choose to get involved in betting on sports in the months thereafter. Indeed, there has been a virtual stampede of legislators attempting to pass the necessary laws to allow sportsbooks to appear in their states. There are now legalized sportsbooks in Nevada, New Jersey, Delaware, Mississippi, and West Virginia with Pennsylvania and Rhode Island expected to host their first state-regulated bookmakers shortly. In the coming years, New York, Illinois, and Michigan are likely to join the club.
There's one name that's prominent on this list by its omission. That's right – New Mexico has not passed any law authorizing bookmaking concerns to set up shop within its borders. What's more, there haven't been any serious attempts over the years to introduce and advance such legislation. This raises the question as to how the Santa Ana Star Casino can possibly offer this service legitimately.
The explanation for this apparent legal paradox lies in the complex interplay of state law, federal law, and tribal compacts.
According to New Mexico state law, “receiving, recording or forwarding bets or offers to bet” falls into the category of commercial gambling and is a fourth degree felony. This level of crime is punishable by imprisonment for up to 18 months and fines as high as $5,000.
However, all gambling conducted under the terms of a gaming compact is governed by tribal law, not the regular state law. The State of New Mexico does have such a compact with the Pueblo of Santa Ana, which became effective on Dec. 30, 2016, and the Santa Ana Star Casino operates according to the rules stipulated in this document.
Part of the text of the compact states: “Permitted Class III Gaming. The Tribe may conduct, only on Indian Lands, subject to all of the terms and conditions of this Compact, any or all forms of Class III Gaming.” And federal regulations define sports betting as explicitly a Class III game. Therefore, it seems clear that the Pueblo of Santa Ana feel entirely justified, from a legal perspective, in proceeding without awaiting any new laws from New Mexico lawmakers.
Regardless of what the Pueblo of Santa Ana tribe believes to be true legally, it's understandable if New Mexico's leaders feel otherwise. After all, it's not unheard of for new tribal casino projects and expansions across the country to be delayed because of the states crying foul and pursuing action in court.
It seems that the New Mexico authorities were caught a bit by surprise by the rapid pace of sports betting deployment at the Santa Ana Star. Nobody had any idea about the casino's sportsbook plans until Oct. 8 when USBookmaking publicly announced the partnership.
David Carl, a spokesman for the New Mexico Attorney General's Office, made the following vague remarks:
Sports betting at the Santa Ana Star Casino is governed by the Pueblo of Santa Ana Gaming Regulatory Commission. As such, we will closely monitor New Mexico’s tribal gaming compacts and work with the legislature for proper statutory and regulatory oversight to require responsible gaming and enhanced integrity to create an even playing field for all.
For now, New Mexico is content to watch the situation as it develops without interfering in tribal sports betting. Still, this verbiage about “work with the legislature for proper statutory and regulatory oversight” tends to confirm the view that the state will eventually want to exercise effective control over the budding industry.
The compacts between New Mexico and the tribes are basically cookie-cutter copies of a standard reference text. They stipulate that native gambling enterprises must share their gaming revenue with the state. The percentage that they have to hand over ranges from 2% to 10% depending on the amount of cash generated.
However, the catch in this arrangement is that such revenue sharing only applies to “the combined Net Win from all Class III Gaming Machines,” which basically refers to slots and similar devices. Moreover, these NM compacts state:
It appears that sports betting is thus excluded from being considered a form of wagering from which New Mexico can collect any revenue from the tribes. After all, winning betslips must be presented to a casino employee to obtain payment rather than automatically being handled by a machine.
We expect this to inspire some grumbling, if not among officials in Santa Fe, then certainly among cities and counties in New Mexico along with the owners of the five NM racinos. Yet, another provision of the gaming compact possibly contains a way to get the tribe to part with some of its profits:
If the Pueblo of Santa Ana wish to jump into the exciting online and offsite mobile gaming fray, then they would have to renegotiate their compact. This gives state authorities a bargaining chip that they could use to entice the tribe to agree to fork over a portion of their sports betting profits.
There are two tribes in the United States that have instituted their own sportsbook operations even before the Pueblo of Santa Ana: the Fort Mojave Tribe in Nevada and the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians. However, both of these tribal groups are in states that have legalized sports betting whereas the Pueblo of Santa Ana are the first in the country to proceed without positive sports betting legislation having been passed.
This may serve as an impetus to other Indian organizations that would like to experiment with accepting wagers on sporting events. No doubt, many of them are prevented from doing so because their gaming compacts lack the loopholes that New Mexico's do. Yet, among the dozens of gaming tribes across the United States, there must be at least a few that could potentially create fully legal sportsbooks without having to wait for state legislatures to act. In fact, rumor has it that fellow New Mexican tribe the Mescalero Apache intends to soon inaugurate its own sportsbook at its Inn of the Mountain Gods gaming facility.
As far as promoting other forms of wagering in New Mexico, like online casinos and poker rooms, we feel that an overall NM gambling expansion led by the tribes cannot help but create a more welcoming climate for all other forms of real money gaming. However, the unusual “back door” route utilized by the Santa Ana tribe to bring a sportsbook to the state is unlikely to be replicated for other varieties of betting. The slow-paced march of bureaucratic and legislative rule-making will have to be followed, as in other states, and so it could be quite a few years before internet gaming is licensed in the Land of Enchantment.
We're happy that a new form of betting is coming to residents of New Mexico, but you needn't despair if there are no tribes expected to offer sports betting in your state in the foreseeable future. This is because, even if you don't live in one of the six states with legal sportsbooks, there are still plenty of options for wagering online.
Unlicensed gambling companies aren't worried about the commandments of state or federal law enforcement because their principals are located faraway in offshore jurisdictions that are secure from the prying hands of the U.S. government. As an individual bettor, there's no statute on the books that's actually enforced that criminalizes the act of putting some money down on your favorite teams.
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