Legalized sports betting would raise pulses and the action at Zia Park By John L. Smith, CDC Gaming Reports September 17, 2018 at 8:00 pm HOBBS, N.M. — It was a beautiful afternoon for a horse race, but the thundering herd hadn’t yet arrived during my recent visit to the Zia Park Casino, Hotel & Racetrack. By that, I mean the track’s annual quarter horse and thoroughbred racing meet. It wasn’t scheduled to begin until Sept. 22 at the facility located off Highway 62 in the southeastern part of the state close to the heart of its lucrative oil-and-gas fields.In truth, there wasn’t exactly a herd of customers in the place, either. Zia’s 750 slot machines tinkled and jangled with a handful of customers. The horse book area featured a bathroom under construction and almost as many television screens as bettors watching simulcasts of tracks such as Louisiana Downs, Saratoga, Gulfstream, and Monmouth Park. Televised racing from Albuquerque Downs also aired, reminding locals that at least live racing was occurring somewhere in the Land of Enchantment. It didn’t take long to determine that if any place could have taken advantage of legalized sports betting, it’s lonesome Zia Park. And it’s not alone. Although it has great potential, Zia Park is like many gambling operations whose customer base and eventual bottom line depends the popularity of horse racing and the predictability of snowfall. New Mexico offers a variety of legal gambling options with Native American casinos, a state lottery, recreational senior citizen bingo games, and horse racetrack and off-track betting. With fewer than three dozen casinos spread out over the nation’s fifth largest state – but sixth least-densely populated with approximately 2 million residents – it faces challenges at several levels. But you don’t need a team of MBAs to surmise that the action might get more interesting if New Mexico saw fit to legalize sports betting in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s repeal of the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA.) It makes good financial sense – and not just because New Mexicans are sports crazy supporters of their university teams. In the case of the Zia track, for instance, it’s located six miles from the Texas state line and 110 miles west of Lubbock. It’s just a rumor, but the last I heard Texans are obsessed with football. They bet a bundle on it illegally each year. As the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram’s longtime Texas observer Mac Engel noted after PASPA’s repeal in predicting slow movement in the Lone Star State, “…history says Texas will fight expanding gaming until it needs the money. We’re a strong state with jobs, but in due time, we’re going to need the cash. … Putting cash on Dallas to cover 3.5 points against Philly is a dumb play, but one day we will be allowed to legally lose our money in Texas betting on the Cowboys.” But not soon. And the potential for a Texas feeder market for Zia and other New Mexico sites is obvious. In 2013, Engel noted, a study determined Texans lost $2.96 billion gambling in legal casinos in New Mexico and other neighboring states. None of this is lost on Zia Park owner Penn National Gaming, Inc., the country’s third-largest gaming company. Penn and its subsidiaries more than 20 horse racing and casino operations in 15 states and Canada. Penn moved swiftly to add sports betting parlors to five of its Mississippi casinos following legalization in that state earlier this year. To date, New Mexico’s clashing casino and racing executives have failed to show a united legal and political front on the issue. Failing that, teams of lawyers and lobbyists will bound to generate more profits on the issue of legalized sports betting in the state than Zia Park and others like it. Contact John L. Smith at email@example.com. On Twitter: @jlnevadasmith.