New Mexico tribes step up to measure human cost of gaming legalizationBy John L. Smith, CDC Gaming ReportsJanuary 3, 2018 at 9:15 pmALBUQUERQUE – The rise of legalized gambling in New Mexico has been a boon to tribal and the state economies, but there’s more than profits at the bottom line.There’s the human cost of doing business.Measuring the financial impact of easily accessed and increasingly sophisticated Native American casinos as well as the state’s own proliferating game of chance – the lottery – is a matter of accounting. The human cost is a trickier, and more political, calculus.While it can be a simple matter to chart an uptick in bankruptcy filings and the kind of embezzlement crimes often linked to compulsive gambling behavior, arriving at the right percentages is a different matter. And as society becomes ever more obsessed with its cell and computer technology, and the opportunities to gamble online continue to grow, some gaming observers speculate that compulsive behavior may rise accordingly.In New Mexico, tribal governments have begun funding an association aimed at studying problem gambling in the state, Thom Cole of the Santa Fe New Mexican recently reported. Conducted by the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation of Washington, D.C., it is being touted as the first in-depth look at the issue in a decade. In all, $292,000 has been earmarked for the study, funded by the tribes under their Responsible Gaming of New Mexico group. The last study was undertaken in 2006.Although I’d argue the dollar figure for the study will likely be insufficient, and should have been augmented by the state in the interest of all its residents, the survey’s goal is laudable. It could be completed as early as next year and will be made available to the public, according to the newspaper.The National Council on Problem Gambling observes that between 2 percent and 3 percent of players are considered “problem gamblers.” The figure means an estimated 6 million adults and 500,000 teen-agers have real problems controlling their gambling.The numbers, of course, don’t tell the whole story. Like drug and alcohol addiction, the economic hardships caused by compulsive gambling can devastate families on many levels.Given the predominance of tribal casinos, it’s also more complex than it may at first appear. The New Mexico casino experiment is an intriguing mix of investment found mostly along Interstate 40 and Interstate 25. Some casinos offer headliners and hotel stays; others appear focused on truckers and locals.Although New Mexico has a long and colorful history of gambling, casino legalization has been limited to tribal entities following the passage of the 1988 Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. The state spent the next decade battling politics and hammering out its first compact in 1997. The New Mexico Legislature in 1999 passed the Compact Negotiation Act, but just a year later the state and tribes were embroiled in a dispute over the revenue-sharing component of the first contract. The dispute was eventually settled.Like many states, and this includes Nevada, New Mexico at times has fallen short of properly funding problem gambling hotlines and addiction access.While the tribes are showing real leadership, the same can’t be said for New Mexico Gov. Susanna Martinez and the state’s Compulsive Gambling Council, which hasn’t met in seven years in violation of the law. It’s hard to say you’re taking the issue seriously when you haven’t gotten together in the better part of a decade.Even more laughable is the lopsided investment in addressing problem gambling programs. While the tribes spent $1.8 million overall, the state pitched in a paltry $71,000 despite raking more than $156 million in tax revenues into its coffers.The tribes are showing maturity in funding a new study. With a professional and comprehensive approach, the entire state is bound to benefit from its findings, no matter how painful they may be.John L. Smith is a longtime Las Vegas journalist and author. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @jlnevadasmith.