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Sports wagering to hit New Mexico next week at Santa Ana

Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal

Once considered a long shot, the odds are now good there will be sports betting in New Mexico sooner rather than later.

On the heels of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in May, Santa Ana Star Casino will open a new sports book Tuesday with full sports betting accessibility.

And there doesn’t appear to be any regulatory agency trying to block it.

“Sports betting at the Santa Ana Star Casino is governed by the Pueblo of Santa Ana Gaming Regulatory Commission,” said David Carl, press secretary for the Office of the Attorney General.

“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.”

Las Vegas-based USBookmaking, the company that will “provide sports betting risk services” at Santa Ana, announced Monday the agreement to run the sports book at the casino, located north of Albuquerque and bordering Rio Rancho and Bernalillo.

The state of New Mexico will not get any revenue from the venture under existing gaming compacts. The state receives a percentage from slot machine receipts but not from most other gambling in the casinos.

The Journal spoke with a Santa Ana spokeswoman Tuesday and then emailed several questions, but had not received answers by press time. Included in the questions was what percentage of profit Santa Ana will keep and what percentage will be kept by USBookmaking.

Opening the door

Sports gambling for years had been legal only in Nevada and on a limited basis in three other states.

But in May, a 6-3 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court essentially killed the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act. That act was instituted in 1992 and, for the most part, was what prevented other states from allowing sports betting.

That changed with the court decision, and it has led tribal leaders across the country who are operating under state compacts to revisit their own laws and agreements.

The sports gaming website SportsHandle.com cited an unnamed USBookmaking spokesman who says that the company has “thoroughly researched” the legality of sports betting under the compact, and that Santa Ana “and all involved feel confident in moving forward” with offering sports betting because it falls under what is classified as allowable Class III gaming.

In New Mexico, the State Tribal Gaming Compact of 2015 between the state and at least 17 tribes (Santa Ana signed its agreement on Dec. 30, 2016), allows for the tribal casinos to have Class III gaming “on Indian Lands” and the casinos keep all the profit from betting that requires a person — table games or, now it is presumed, sports betting. The casinos share a part of all profits with the state for machine-based games: slot machines or video poker.

Specifically, the act says, “Generally, games that are predominantly mechanical, electromechanical or electronic are subject to revenue sharing and games that rely significantly on a casino attendant (a live person) to play the game are not subject to that obligation.”

At least one lawmaker hopes that could change, and that gaming compacts might be renegotiated with a new governor taking office in January.

“My hope is the tribal communities find it in their interest to renegotiate the compacts to allow the entire state to benefit from the sports betting industry,” said Rep. Antonio “Moe” Maestas, D-Albuquerque.

Maestas and others note that a large number of people already find ways to gamble on sports — through the internet or in fantasy sports pools — just not at local brick and mortar locations.

The American Gaming Association estimates more than $150 billion per year is wagered on sports annually in the United States with as much as 97 percent of that being done so illegally.

Along those lines, Maestas is happy with the move by Santa Ana.

“I would rather New Mexicans bet with local tribes than internet sites in the Bahamas,” Maestas said. “I’m glad this is happening.”

And the Lobos?

University of New Mexico Athletic Director Eddie Nuñez on Tuesday brought up the news at a Board of Regents Finance and Facilities committee meeting while updating select regents on matters that could affect the Athletics Department in the near future.

Nuñez told the regents he has already reached out to fellow Mountain West Conference schools UNLV and Nevada, where sports betting is already legal, to see how they handle having sports betting available locally.

He told the Journal that both schools have more compliance officers on staff than UNM to handle matters pertaining to local sports gambling, and that student athletes are told at least once a year that they are not allowed to gamble on sports due to NCAA guidelines.

While bettors in Las Vegas, Nev., and Reno are allowed to wager on UNLV and Nevada games, it is unclear whether UNM and New Mexico State University games would be taken off the board (not allowed to be wagered on) at Santa Ana or at other New Mexico sports book locations that might open.

It is unclear how many other casinos around New Mexico might pursue sports betting, though published reports indicate that the Inn of the Mountain Gods near Ruidoso will do so and others in the Albuquerque area are expected to follow suit. None of them has made any official announcements.

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