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Legality of sports betting in NM questioned

Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – At least one New Mexico state legislator thinks the New Mexico Lottery Authority went out of bounds when it authorized a new sports lottery game.

Rep. Jason Harper

Rep. Jason Harper, R-Rio Rancho, says tying sports betting into a lottery game makes it illegal.

“My view is that if the lottery moves forward with sports betting, that’s illegal,” he said. “This is them going rogue like they have gone with the ‘Play at the Pump.’ They never had the authority to do that.”

In 2015 and 2016, the state Legislature rejected a New Mexico Lottery proposal that would have allowed people to play a lottery game while pumping gas.

Last week, the lottery board voted unanimously in favor of a new sports-related lottery game, which could debut in four to six months.

Final details of the game are still being worked out, but lottery officials say it will be similar to a parlay wager where players would have to correctly pick the outcomes of at least three sporting events to win.

Guy C. Clark

On Monday, the Journal published an op-ed piece by Guy C. Clark, chairman of Stop Predatory Gambling New Mexico. Clark says that allowing a sports lottery game would violate state law because New Mexico has not legalized sports betting.

He also maintains that Santa Ana Star Casino has been operating in violation of federal law since Oct. 16, when it opened a sports book allowing people to wager on major professional sports and collegiate sporting events, except those that involve college sports teams from New Mexico.

“The lottery board is suggesting that since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the Professional and Amateur Protection Act (PASPA) in the suit initiated by the NCAA against the State of New Jersey, that the court waved a magic wand and made sports betting legal throughout the United States. No such thing happened,” Clark wrote.

“The court basically ruled that the federal government does not have the authority to determine state law regarding sports betting, but that the states are responsible for deciding whether or not to legalize sports betting. Sports betting has not been legalized in New Mexico, which makes a lottery game which features sports betting illegal under state law.”

Rep. Harper agrees.

“When the Supreme Court ruled, it did not change any laws in New Mexico,” he said. “So why the lottery thinks it can do sports betting now again shows we have a rogue lottery in our state.”

Harper said he plans to write a letter to the Attorney General’s Office asking for an opinion on the question.

But when it opened its sports book last month, Santa Ana Star Casino Hotel issued a news release touting itself as the first open sports book in New Mexico and citing the Supreme Court decision that it said overturned federal law prohibiting sports betting everywhere in the U.S., except Nevada.

“Hundreds of millions of dollars are spent each year through illegal sports books and shady overseas internet operations,” John Cirrincione, Santa Ana Star’s chief executive officer, said in the news release. “It is good to see that sports betting will be strictly regulated and brought out of the shadows around the country. … Our goal is to provide a more fun and entertaining gaming experience for our guests.”

When asked about the legality of sports betting in New Mexico and whether the lottery board can institute a game that relies on the outcome of sporting events, a spokesman with the AG’s office on Monday provided the Journal with a statement.

“The Office of the Attorney General is aware of both of these matters and will closely monitor New Mexico’s tribal gaming compacts, as well as the lottery, and will 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,” said David Carl, a spokesman for the AG’s office.

Harper said he plans to introduce legislation that would make it “crystal clear” that the lottery can’t expand gambling with approval from the Legislature.

Rep. Antonio “Moe” Maestas, D-Albuquerque, disagrees with Clark and Harper. He says the U.S. Supreme Court did legalize sports betting in New Mexico because the state uses the federal definition for Class III gambling, which includes sports betting.

“That opened the door,” he said. “Even though in the compacts (with tribes with gambling operations) we don’t use the term ‘sports betting,’ we apply the Class III definition, which does include the term.”

He said that he would like to see more tribes in New Mexico follow Santa Ana’s play of opening a sports book.

“Sports betting is great entertainment and I believe it will boost revenues,” he said, adding that he felt the state could benefit from Texas gamblers.

Tribal casinos share a portion of their revenue with state government, based on “net win” from wagering on gambling machines like slots, not the net profit of the casinos.

Maestas said the question concerning the lottery game is more of a grey area, depending on whether the lottery game amounts to a game of chance or a game of skill.

The New Mexico Lottery said in a statement that the sports lottery game it plans to propose is covered under the New Mexico Lottery Act.

“The new sports lottery game, which is in the suite of online games, is a lottery game which is permissible under New Mexico law,” it said, citing the statute, which says a lottery game must be “hooked up to a central computer via a telecommunications system through which a player selects a specified group of numbers or symbols out of a predetermined range of numbers or symbols and purchases a ticket bearing the player-selected numbers or symbols for eligibility in a drawing regularly scheduled in accordance with game rules.”

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