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Bill to expand NM gaming would benefit scholarship program

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

(Roberto E. Rosales/ Journal)

SANTA FE – A New Mexico scholarship program for qualifying college students would get an infusion of new money from an expansion of gaming – including sports gambling – at the state’s five racetrack casinos, under a bill a bipartisan group of lawmakers plans to file during the upcoming 60-day session.

Backers of the proposed legislation said Thursday the plan could benefit students by expanding the size of scholarships, while also bolstering job creation and state revenue levels.

“This is a totally new revenue stream we’re looking for,” said Rep. Raymundo “Ray” Lara, D-Chamberino, during a virtual news conference.

He and other supporters said the measure, if approved, could generate roughly $40 million annually, with about $15 million of that amount earmarked for the legislative lottery scholarship program.

Currently, the lottery scholarship program pays for a portion – but not all – of tuition for in-state high school graduates who meet qualifications, including a minimum grade point average requirement.

In the 2020 budget year, there were a total of 24,274 lottery scholarship recipients, including 17,082 at the state’s four-year universities.

The lottery scholarship previously covered all tuition expenses for recipients, but rising tuition costs, expanded use of the program and largely stagnant lottery ticket sales prompted legislators to make changes to the program in recent years.

Specifically, the legislation would allow the New Mexico Lottery to operate blackjack, poker and other live table games at the state’s five racetrack casinos – in Sunland Park, Farmington, Hobbs, Ruidoso and Albuquerque.

Unlike in a previous proposal floated last summer, the racinos would not technically offer the “Las Vegas”-style gambling themselves, but would merely provide the space for the lottery to operate such games under lease agreements.

Meanwhile, the bill would also authorize on-site sports gambling, though supporters said they had agreed to prohibit any betting on in-state collegiate sports.

While the bill would not affect the state’s existing gambling compacts with Native American tribes, it could face scrutiny from some tribal groups.

In addition, previous proposals to expand legal gambling in New Mexico have encountered opposition from those who say it could exacerbate gambling addiction and other issues.

However, several higher education officials spoke Tuesday in favor of the proposed legislation, with New Mexico Independent Community Colleges Executive Director Kathy Ulibarri saying it could provide more affordable access to colleges and universities for New Mexicans.

Rep. Phelps Anderson, R-Roswell, also spoke in favor of the legislation, citing a need to have more New Mexicans stay in the state for higher education and pursue careers within the state’s boundaries.

The legislative session starts Tuesday.


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