If any single state benefitted from the wide-ranging Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) of 1988, it was definitely New Mexico. In this state traditionally listed among the United States’ bottom five in terms of per capita income and over 10% of the population comprised of Native Americans IGRA proved a positive boon for the reservation economies and, thanks to the extensive reach of the Navajo Nation, much of the state in general.
In the three decades following IGRA’s passage, New Mexicans living in one of the state’s major population centers (Albuquerque, Las Cruces, Rio Rancho, Taos, Santa Fe) typically need to go only as far as the city limits to enjoy top-quality casinos with that distinctive mellow American Southwest vibe.
Population: 2.086 million (2014)
Area: 121,697 sq. mi.
Gambling Age (Casinos): 21
Gambling Age (Lottery): 18
Number of Casinos: 24
• New Mexico’s state bird is the roadrunner. Mee-meep!
• Some buildings in Taos Pueblo are 1,000 years old.
• Santa Fe was founded by the Spanish in 1610.
• The hot-air balloon fiesta held annually in Albuquerque is easily the world’s largest of its kind.
New Mexico has been home to Native Americans, Mexicans and folks of European descent for four centuries now and has had a generally relaxed stance on gambling well before the state’s incorporation into the union in 1910.
The first step to today’s modern casino-happy New Mexico began in the post-war 1940s when pari-mutuel horse racing opened at La Mesa Park in Raton. Why this relatively obscure (according to the 2010 census, fewer than 7,000 currently reside there) burg? Simple: The clever owners at that time reckoned that its close proximity to Colorado (about 10 miles to the border), Oklahoma and Texas (each about 50 miles away) would bring gamblers from those states – and it did until the mid-1980s when Texas finally legalized betting on horse racing.
However, as previously mentioned, it was the Reagan Administration’s IGRA that changed the landscape of gambling in New Mexico. Navajo bands in the Albuquerque/Bernalillo area had full-on casinos established in the early 1990s, though the north part of the stare would have to wait until 1998 to finaly see gaming opened up there.
Of the state’s two dozen or so casinos – all Native-operated – the greatest concentration of gaming places may be found in the Albuquerque and Rio Rancho environs in Bernalillo County. Five casinos are located in the outskirts of Albuquerque/Rio Rancho, and the Albuquerque Downs racetrack grounds include quite a large casino outlet as well. Another five casinos do business in Santa Fe County, outside the capitol city. Finally, the citizens of Taos Pueblo run the massive Taos Mountain Casino in the eponymous county.
The age for gambling at New Mexico casinos is 21 and, due to concerns of certain sociological effects on the local population, this is very strictly enforced. Be prepared to show ID if you’re young-looking. At the horsetracks, bets may be placed by those 18 or older.
Since we’re talking about New Mexico, how about a legendary figure from the Wild West? Maria Gertrudis Barceló, a.k.a. Doña Tules, was quite an enterprising young lady who made decent money, um, providing services for gentlemen traveling on the Santa Fe Trail. After running a successful gambling saloon at the Mexican end of the trail for at least 10 years, Doña Tules set up shop in Santa Fe itself in 1835. Her saloon in New Mexico was described by reports at the time to be a “a house where open gambling, drinking, and smoking were enjoyed by all ... with no thought of being socially degraded.”
Luckily for Doña Tules, the law in the Western Territories wasn’t as strict as back in the more outwardly puritanical east. In fact, in 1846, the U.S. Army requested (and received) a loan of several thousand dollars from her!
When she gambled, Doña Tules’s game was monte, which she played with skill enough to be known throughout the country as an absolute expert.
As detailed above, the main law to know vis-à-vis New Mexico casinos is IGRA. A state lottery exists and most major regulations regarding pari-mutuel racing in the state have remained unchanged since the 1940s. Betting on daily fantasy sports is also allowed within the state borders.
Native American tribes run the gambling show in New Mexico under auspices of IGRA and, despite some token efforts by mostly Catholic-led efforts to ban gambling in the state, this eventuality seems entirely unlikely. Regan’s federal law seems absolutely tailormade for a state like New Mexico…