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Isleta Casino puts Lobos, Aggies games ‘on the board’

Sasha Gallegos, a self-described Los Angeles Dodgers fan, places a bet Tuesday at the recently opened Isleta Resort & Casino sportsbook. The casino will accept bets on in-state college games this season. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

Sasha Gallegos, a self-described Los Angeles Dodgers fan, places a bet Tuesday at the recently opened Isleta Resort & Casino sportsbook. The casino will accept bets on in-state college games this season. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

Odds are, if you really wanted to bet on University of New Mexico or New Mexico State football or basketball games, you already have done so.

But it will be easier for New Mexico residents this season since Isleta Resort & Casino will accept wagers on football and basketball games involving in-state teams.

“There is a huge Lobo and Aggie following in this market,” said Harold Baugus, CEO of Isleta Resort & Casino. “We feel there is enough training and measures in place (that taking bets on UNM and NMSU games won’t be a problem). …

“There was never a hesitation regarding (putting the local teams on the board) due to the fact that there are extreme measures in place in the world of betting to prevent any kind of wrongdoing that might happen.”

So this season, whenever the Lobos or Aggies square off against another Football Bowl Subdivision level opponent, bettors can wager on a win or loss for the local teams.

Patrons at Isleta Resort & Casino will be able to bet on University of New Mexico and New Mexico State University games, which concerns officials at both universities. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

Patrons at Isleta Resort & Casino will be able to bet on University of New Mexico and New Mexico State University games, which concerns officials at both universities. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

That certainly has drawn the attention of all of New Mexico’s Division I universities.

UNM athletic director Eddie Nuñez said he learned of Isleta’s decision Monday night.

“We already communicate with our donors and student-athletes all the time about the NCAA rules and regulations regarding sports betting and will continue to do so,” Nuñez said. “But now, the fact is we’re going to have to do more. … We have to look at what is necessary from a compliance standpoint on our end.”

He pointed out that the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, has a much larger compliance staff than UNM does.

Sports betting in Las Vegas has been around for decades, including wagering on the local teams. This is the second year sports gaming in New Mexico has been legal.

Nuñez said he hopes to talk with the leaders at Isleta and express his concerns about their decision before football season begins.

Betting on any sporting event is a big no-no for college athletes playing under the NCAA umbrella. So compliance offices across the country already educate their athletes about gambling issues, including the need to make sure nobody is throwing games.

The May 2018 U.S. Supreme Court decision to essentially kill the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act opened the door for sports wagering on college-level teams.

Now, athletic departments are growing concerned that betting gives the people around their programs – not just high-end professional gamblers, but also roommates, close relatives, classmates and donors – more of a vested interest in approaching and talking to college athletes about outcomes.

“This news certainly highlights the need to hammer home the gambling education message with student-athletes, coaches, staff and supporters of the program,” NMSU athletic director Mario Moccia said.

One year ago, Santa Ana Star Casino became the state’s first casino to offer sports wagering. But the casino decided to keep UNM and NMSU “off the board,” meaning people cannot bet on their games.

Buffalo Thunder Casino in Pojoaque accepted bets on in-state college basketball teams in March, but just during conference tournaments.

Both Isleta and Santa Ana contract their “sports betting risk services” through the same Las Vegas-based USBookmaking, which regularly includes UNM and NMSU games with point spreads and money line bets.

But Santa Ana Star Casino’s policy to keep UNM and NMSU off the betting board remains intact for the coming season.

“There is interest from the public, but we must carefully assess our risk and also any potential risk to our local athletic programs,” said Santa Ana Star CEO and General Manager John Cirrincione.

“We are going to operate our sportsbook as the model for Native American casinos. This includes providing a gaming product in (which) we do what is right by the tribe, the community and individuals.”

Baugus maintains that neither his casino nor any of the Nevada sportsbooks would accept wagers if there were concerns about exposing themselves to unreasonable risk.

“There was some discussion when we first started, but once we started going through all the training and doing all the research – those things are mitigated in this day and age, especially with all the technology out there,” Baugus said. “But nobody has ever asked (us to not take UNM or NMSU bets). It’s never been an issue. If it becomes an issue, we will address it. We are going to stand pat with what we’re doing. We have the administration and the tribal support to stay with that.”

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