A squabble between New Mexico tribal casino operators and the state’s racetracks escalated Monday after the tribes pushed back against proposed gambling expansion.
At a legislative hearing in Santa Fe, Stuart Paisano, Governor of Sandia Pueblo, said the plan would violate the tribe’s exclusivity on casino gaming and threaten revenue-sharing deals with the state. The racing industry-backed plan would allow the tracks to offer unlimited slots, table games, online gambling, and sports betting around the clock.
“This proposed legislation presents not only a renewed challenge to our economic security, but a reckless attempt to expand private wealth at the expense of our ability to provide essential government services,” Paisano said, as reported by the Associated Press.
Currently, each racetrack, or ‘racino,’ is restricted to just 600 slots and can remain open for no more than 18 hours per day, or 122 hours per week.
Meanwhile, most of New Mexico’s tribal operators signed fresh compacts with the state in 2015, which directs them to share between 2 and 10.5 percent of revenues, depending on the size of those revenues, in return for regional exclusivity.
The casinos are the economic lifeblood of the tribes, and many remain closed because of the coronavirus pandemic. But the tracks are also struggling financially, and were so even before the pandemic hit. They argue gambling expansion is necessary to save New Mexico’s racing industry.
Under the tracks’ proposal, the state would scrap tribal revenue-share payments and collect more money in taxes from the expanded commercial ventures.
A 2019 Union Gaming Analytics study claimed the state could generate an extra $62 million in tax revenues from racinos, should they be permitted to offer full-blown casino gaming.
If online gaming revenue is added to the mix, that could jump to about $75 million, Ethan Linder, director of marketing for Sunland Park Racetrack and Casino, told The Sante Fe New Mexican last month.
For now, the tribes do not want to give up their hard-won compacts, less so their exclusivity. But some lawmakers are clearly taken with the plan, especially as the state looks for ways to heal its post-Covid economy.
Democratic Rep. Antonio Maestas of Albuquerque, chair of the legislative economic and rural development committee, told the Associated Press it was a subject at least “deserving of conversation.” He added that the pandemic would force the state to take difficult measures to protect the economy.
But while lawmakers acknowledged the potential tax benefits of the proposal, there were calls for more research to better understand its impact on the state budget and tribal communities.