Tiny Taos Native American casino makes a perfect project for a gaming industry Ph.D.By John L. Smith, CDC Gaming ReportsJuly 16, 2018 at 8:00 pmTAOS, N.M. – You’ll have to go looking to find the diminutive Taos Mountain Casino.It’s located at 700 Veterans Highway between the entrance to the historic Taos Pueblo and the end of the famous artists’ town. As they say, blink and you might miss it.In summer, it’s not far from the throngs of tourists who descend on Taos for its perennial celebration of Georgia O’Keeffe and other artists who gave it an international reputation in the early 20th Century. Come winter, legions flock to Taos Ski Valley in the truly breathtaking Sangre de Cristo range along the southern spine of the Rocky Mountains.Taos Mountain CasinoThat level of traffic in multiple seasons might lead you to believe the tribal casino is bustling along, but after a recent visit I came to a different conclusion. While I could have been there on an off day, a thorough check of online reviews confirmed my suspicion that Taos Mountain is not only hungry for more customers but may also be short on new ideas.The non-smoking, alcohol-free facility has offered table games, but these days it’s a slots-only casino with a small cafe. It offers a lot of penny slots, some entertaining Wheel of Fortune machines, but mostly the kind of games you would have found in gambling houses some years ago.I found the lack of smoke refreshing. And the ban on alcohol wasn’t surprising. Many Indian casinos don’t allow the sale of alcohol on tribal land. Even the older slots were all right for a short time.But let’s just say it won’t take visitors long to say, “Been there, done that” at the Taos Mountain Casino. Although I had no issue with the slot joint’s small staff, online reviewers have often been much less kind. The place has been savaged by some, constructively criticized by others. The grill gets generally high praise, but with few exceptions the overall buzz isn’t good.When I stepped back into summer’s afternoon light and took in the picturesque panorama and was reminded of the kind of beauty that attracted great artists to the region to paint and spend the rest of their lives, I decided the Taos Mountain Casino would make a great study for a team of graduate students focused on the impact of gambling on Indian land.Some of those same energetic scholars should be tasked with coming up with a new marketing approach for the casino. The ghosts of Jackie Gaughan and Sam Boyd – and even Bob Stupak – should be conjured to make the most of a new Taos Mountain Casino Fun Book full of coupons and come-ons.Now, about the fun part.Design aficionados could take the small casino space and rearrange the slot offerings (and likely eliminate some) in order to give the place less of a warehouse feel. The industry’s giants are experienced and skilled at laying out a casino the size of Rhode Island. How about coming up with a layout that would work for a gambling joint barely larger than a convenience store?Yet another group might volunteer to rewrite the menu offerings to make them work for a small cafe. For my money, a really good food truck, or something like it, would make a tasty addition. Perhaps a big barbecue on the weekend and work from there.It’s possible the casino’s greatest missed opportunity is the one that so many people who live in the area may also take for granted. It’s the beauty of the Sangre de Cristos, the incredible skiing at Taos Valley, the remarkable restaurants and hotel accommodations available at a wide spectrum of price points in Taos.Due to its size, Taos Mountain Casino might be fated to be thought of as an amenity or side trip for visitors to the area’s more celebrated offerings. That’s not a small goal, but a positive destination.With some good ideas, and the management to implement them, this roadside slot house might surprise some people and – make repeat customers in the process.Contact John L. Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @jlnevadasmith.