New Mexico Tribe to Launch Sports Betting Despite Legal Uncertainty

Posted on: October 9, 2018, 03:00h. 

Last updated on: October 9, 2018, 12:31h.

The Pueblo of Santa Ana tribe of New Mexico plans to open a sports book next week at its Santa Ana Star Casino. It’s a move that will test the legal waters in a state that has not legalized sports betting and could set the tone for how the vertical is adopted by tribal gaming operators in other US states.

Santa Ana
The Santa Ana Star Casino in Bernalillo, New Mexico, plans to host the state’s first sports book from next week — legally, the tribe believes — although the state AG’s office may have different ideas. (Image: Santa Ana Star)

Tribes have been cautious of sports betting because of the assumption that it would require the renegotiation of the hard-won compacts. As such they generally prefer to maintain the status quo.

But the Pueblo believe sports betting is already covered by their existing compact with the state, which authorizes them to offer class III gaming in accordance with the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA).

We know this because Vegas sports book operator USBookmaking announced this week it has partnered with the tribe on its sports book operations. A spokesman told Sports Handle “the issue [of legality] has been thoroughly researched and all involved feel confident in moving forward with plans to offer Nevada-style, single-team sports wagering beginning October 16.”

Is Sports Betting Class III Gaming?

IGRA makes no explicit mention of sports betting, but it does define class III gaming as anything that isn’t class I (traditional, ceremonial Indian gaming or social gaming for small prizes) or class II gaming (bingo and poker, excluding electronic variations).

Tribes must reach an agreement with the state to conduct class III gaming, which must then be approved by the US Interior Department. In New Mexico, that currently includes slot machines and table games like blackjack and craps. The tribe believes it also includes sports betting.

IGRA says: “Indian tribes have the exclusive right to regulate gaming activity on Indian lands if the gaming activity is not specifically prohibited by Federal law and is conducted within a State which does not, as a matter of criminal law and public policy, prohibit such gaming activity.”

State AG Statement Expected

In a post-PASPA America, does New Mexico expressly prohibit sports betting? That’s a question for State Attorney General Hector Balderas. When contacted by SportsHandle, a spokesman for the AG’s office said he had not been aware of the tribe’s plans and that the AG would release an opinion on the matter as early as Tuesday.

Last month, the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians opened the first ever tribal sports betting operation outside Nevada, apparently without the need to amend its compact with the state. But Mississippi has legalized sports betting and New Mexico has not.

In fact, there has been no push at all in the legislature to even submit a sports betting bill. However, if there is an appetite to do so among lawmakers, a sudden stand-off between the tribe and the AG’s office might be the catalyst that spurs them into action.