New Mexico Tribal Casino Opens First Sportsbook In State

The United States regulatory stance on gaming operations on Native American Tribal land has produced a mix bag for betting enthusiasts. On the plus side, it’s facilitated the spread of gaming throughout the nation including in states where it otherwise would not exist. On the downside, it’s created a bizarre mishmash of regulations that make it tough to keep track of what is legal in specific jurisdictions.

It’s obvious that tribal casinos will play a big part in the growth of sports betting in the United States sooner or later. For now, however, most tribal gaming interests have not taken a formal position. In New Mexico, however, one tribal casino has done more than ‘take a position’. The Tamaya Nation at the Pueblo of Santa Ana is a small tribe of approximately 500 members that have lived on this land dating back to the 1500’s. They operate the Santa Ana Star Casino and Hotel in Bernalillo, NM which is right outside of Albuquerque. The ‘Land of Enchantment’ has a sizable native gaming industry with 23 casinos offering a total of 17,000 slots. The Santa Ana Star has diversified by becoming the first property in the state to offer sports betting.

So how can the Santa Ana Star offer sports betting when it hasn’t been legalized in New Mexico as of yet? That’s one of the intricacies of Native American gaming–the actual regulatory wording is significantly more confusing but generally speaking tribes can offer any game on tribal land that isn’t specifically outlawed by the state or federal government. Since sports betting is now legal in the US and not specifically prohibited in the state of New Mexico the Santa Ana Star is offering sports betting under an existing Class III compact with the state.

New Mexico is one of the most beautiful states in the country and has a delicious native cuisine. Unfortunately, a few things still stand in the way of ‘The Land of Enchantment’ becoming a sports bettors paradise. Currently, all wagers must be made in person on site. There are some interpretations of the state’s regulatory guidelines that suggest that online betting is legal as long as it is conducted on site but that does little good. The limits are also low–currently there is a $5 minimum and $500 maximum bet. As of now, the Santa Ana Star is one of only two properties in the state to offer sports betting. The Buffalo Thunder Casino near Santa Fe began offering sports betting earlier this month.

Another problematic component of the Santa Ana offering–they do not take action on teams in state, which basically means the University of New Mexico and New Mexico State. Property CEO John Cirrincione provided this somewhat cryptic explanation: “Although we believe there would be interest on betting on local teams, we believe it best not to take bets on these teams.” From a practical standpoint, it’s no big deal. From a symbolic standpoint, however, it reinforces the old stereotypes that sports betting is corrupt and a sleazy enterprise. This is why the state of Nevada reversed this policy to allow wagering on games involving UNLV and Nevada-Reno over a decade ago.

These caveats notwithstanding, kudos to the Santa Ana Star for being on the cutting edge of legal sports betting. Hopefully more will follow suit.

About the Author: Jim Murphy

For more than 25 years, Jim Murphy has written extensively on gambling theory and practice. Jim Murphy has been quoted in media from the Wall Street Journal to REASON Magazine. Murphy worked as a radio and podcasting host broadcasting to an international audience that depended on his expertise and advice.