Proposal outlines major changes at New Mexico racinos, tribal casinos

SANTA FE, N.M. (KRQE) – A new proposal aims to overhaul New Mexico’s gambling laws, putting racetrack casinos on virtually the same playing field as tribal casinos. The so-called “Gaming Industry Recovery Act” details several proposed changes including allowing for alcohol on the gaming floor, lifting restrictions on game types, and the number of gaming machines at racinos while allowing for tribal casinos to keep all of their own revenue.

Sunland Park Racetrack Casino General Manager Rick Baugh is among those advocating for the new proposal, which is expected to be presented to lawmakers at a meeting of the Legislative Finance Committee on October 1. Baugh, in part, sees the proposal as a chance for New Mexico to boost tourism.

“There’s so many different things that can, you know, benefit from this in tourism,” said Baugh. “We have the capability of turning the tide and creating the tourist destination, not only here but across all five race tracks and the tribal casinos.”

The proposal would make significant changes to the state’s current gaming compact and allow for much of what casinos aren’t allowed to do today. While proponents of the act say work on the proposal began before the COVID-19 pandemic, a lobbyist working in favor of the act, Scott Scanland says the discussion is even more relevant now as New Mexico continues to reopen its economy.

“Post COVID, what is this economy going to look like?” Scanland said. “The Legislature a couple years ago passed the ETA (Energy Transition Act,) which is the 40-year plan of shifting from oil and gas to renewable energies, that’s going to be a huge shift in economy.”

According to the current proposal, racinos could be the big winners. The act would give racinos the green light to bring in table games and sports betting, something only the tribal casinos can do now. The bill would also open the door for Las Vegas, Nevada-style comps for food, hotel rooms, and golf games for both casinos and racinos. It would also allow for expanded hours and alcohol on the gaming floor.

“We do a good job in getting folks here, but let’s really give them a reason to come to New Mexico, stay here for a long time, spend money,” Scanland said. “Help that general fund and give tourism the boost in New Mexico that we’ve all been looking for.”

The proposal would also let tribes keep the $70 million their casinos currently send to the state each year. Bill supporters think the racinos would make up for those tax losses if they’re allowed to do more.

Republican Senator Bill Sharer of Farmington represents a district with a racino. “The oil and gas industry being destroyed is the only reason that this is open to even a possibility, in my mind,” Sharer said. “The destruction of our economy, we’ve got to do something.”

Sharer says he remains cautious about what he thinks lifting limits on gambling venues could do locally. “If in our efforts we limited or prohibited local advertising and really focused on advertising out of the state, maybe this is an acceptable solution,” Sharer said.

KRQE News 13 reached out to several New Mexico Democratic lawmakers Friday for their thoughts on the bill, but did not hear back. The bill is expected to be presented to both Democrat and Republican lawmakers during a Legislative Finance Committee meeting on October 1.

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