The first phase, or the “pre-regulatory phase” of the history of New Mexico Gambling, can be seen as taking place before any kind of legalization of gambling in the state. The first legalized gambling in the state of New Mexico was horseracing, which began in the state shortly after the end of World War II. For four decades, racing flourished in New Mexico, and racetracks sprung up in Raton, Santa Fe, Albuquerque at the State Fair, Ruidoso, Sunland Park, and Farmington. Quarter horse racing grew in popularity, and the All-American Futurity was the richest quarter horse race in the world. This phase can be seen as the second phase, or the “pari-mutuel” phase, in the history of gambling in New Mexico. However, the legalization of horseracing in neighboring Texas led to a downward turn in horseracing for New Mexico, and made it harder for all those involved to earn a living. This was exacerbated by the arrival of Indian gaming.
The third phase in the history of gambling in New Mexico can be accurately described as the “massive expansion” phase, which included the creation of a state lottery, as well as widespread tribal gambling. Native American casinos are a relatively new phenomenon in New Mexico, as the first Indian casino in northern New Mexico – the Cities of Gold in Pojoaque – opened within the last two decades. Today, 11 pueblo tribes, the Jicarilla Apache tribe, the Navajo Nation, and the Mescalero Apaches all own casinos throughout much of New Mexico.
The state saw the progress that was being made by tribes vis-à-vis their tribal casinos, and commercial interests pushed for their own slot machines at racetracks and other similar business. These slot machines reached a success in the early 2000s – thus, New Mexico now offers all major forms of regulated gambling.
Gambling Defined by New Mexico
The definition of gambling in New Mexico is remarkably broad, as it is in several other U.S. states.
- Section 30.19-2 defines gambling as “making a bet”
- Section 30-19-1(B) defines a “bet” as “a bargain in which the parties agree that, dependent upon chance, even though accompanied by some skill, one stands to win or lose anything of value specified in the agreement”
Therefore, all activities that meet these definitions are technically illegal, though New Mexico law makes exceptions for “betting otherwise permitted by law,” in Section 30-19-1(B). Again, like many other states, the stiffest gambling law penalities take aim at those that are running the illegal gambling business, and not necessarily those simply partaking in the “illegal” betting.
There is absolutely no reference to online gambling within the currrent New Mexico laws. We have seen nothing to suggest that New Mexico is interested in creating online gambling regulations. Land-based poker is a hot commodity in the state, and, may be the starting point in the future for regulated gambling in New Mexico. For now, however, New Mexico remains far behind states like New Jersey and Nevada with regards to regulated online gambling, and citizens will most likely have to wait at least a few years before any kind of online gambling is regulated by the state.
As the home to one of the newest Indian reservations in the U.S., New Mexico has seen the controversy that can accompany such lands. At just 30 acres, the Fort Sill Apache reservation is the tiniest in the country. No tribal members live there yet, though these members trace their lineage all the way back to Geronimo. They were driven from New Mexico more than a century ago, and the largest population concentration of tribal members can be found in Oklahoma; however, the Fort Sill Apache still consider New Mexico to be their ancestral home.
The tribe is currently attempting to transform the site of the reservation into a casino, resulting in disputers. The hope of the tribe is that a casino will generate enough money for the Fort Sill Apache that the tribe will be available to purchase additional land, which may compel some of the 700 members of the tribe to return to their ancestral homeland of New Mexico.