Super Bowl snapshot from New Mexico: Sports betting making presence felt By John L. Smith, CDC Gaming Reports February 5, 2020 at 7:00 pm SANTA FE, N.M. – Roaming through the Buffalo Thunder Resort Casino on Super Bowl Sunday, there was a moment I could tell I wasn’t in Las Vegas anymore. It wasn’t the size of the casino floor, a more than respectable 61,000 square feet filled with 1,200 slot machines, 18 table games, a poker room – and a new feature on the New Mexico gambling scene, a race and sports book. Nor was it the hotel accommodations offered by Hilton, or the three neighboring golf courses and four restaurants on site. The place has a lot going for it. I knew I was in some place different because the sports book offered a carne asada taco special instead of the traditional hot dogs for the Big Game. It was a nice, tasty touch. But that’s New Mexico, a place apart with a legalized gambling industry that’s steadily evolving in increasingly competitive times. Buffalo Thunder Resort Casino It is warming up to sports betting slowly, in what I’d call a toe-in-the-water expansion, in large part due to the lack of specific legal language set forth in the tribal governments’ exclusive state compacts. Although it makes sense that sports betting, once legal, would be included in the definition of Class III gaming, the state has not jumped to forward the enabling language. The gradual embrace of sports betting at several of the state’s casinos is one sign that the sovereign Native American tribal governments are trying to keep pace with the rapid expansion of sports betting in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s repeal of the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act in May 2018. Although other states are garnering bigger headlines, New Mexico operators are moving at their own speed. In an interview on the subject, New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham kept a balanced perspective: “I’ve been very open about all economic activity in the state, requires us to take a look and see if that has more benefits than it does negative outcomes or unintended consequences.” You don’t have to search far to find critics of sports betting expansion. Perhaps remembering past gambling scandals that tarred the University of New Mexico a generation ago, The Albuquerque Journal has been critical of legalized bookmaking in the state. And Lujan Grisham has to be sensitive to the interests of her political allies and benefactors in the state’s horse racing “racino” industry, which makes little secret of its interest in opening its own sports books. But sports betting expansion on the pueblos is paying off for those willing to dive in. The Santa Ana Star Casino Hotel in October 2018 opened the state’s first legal sports book under an agreement with Nevada-based industry veterans USBookmaking. The casino is located north of Albuquerque on the Santa Ana Pueblo at Bernalillo. Santa Ana was followed by Buffalo Thunder, owned by the Pueblo of Pojoaque. Then came the Route 66 Casino, located 20 minutes west of Albuquerque on Interstate 40. Now the Isleta Resort Casino, owned by the Pueblo of Isleta south of Albuquerque, has added the feature that promises to drive traffic and bolster net profits. From the look of the action at Buffalo Thunder on Sunday, the operators may have booked a winner. The betting was steady as the crowd pored over available wagering information and placed bets on other offerings, including a slate of horse races and NBA games. Compare that to the activity on the same day at the sparkling new Tesuque Casino just down the highway. It’s diminutive even by New Mexico standards with 10 table games, 800 slot machines and a bingo lounge, but its modern architecture reminds you tribal gaming has come a long way. It makes remarkable use of natural light and despite the video slot symphony in the background gives off a refreshing vibe. It did not, however, offer legalized sports betting. One employee talked of a sports book possibly opening in time for next year’s Super Bowl. Given the expanding market and growing demand to place bets legally, any time spent on the sidelines figures to be costly. John L. Smith is a longtime Las Vegas columnist and author. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @jlnevadasmith.