N.M. gambling doesn’t need franchising

By Ned Cantwell: State Columnist

Not counting illegal wagers at Sunday-afternoon cockfights, there are about four major outlets for New Mexico gambling, an industry that claims to be a sure bet for just about everyone.

You can try your luck at the racetracks. This, however, is a painfully slow way to lose your money. It requires that you wait about 20 minutes between 30-second races before being granted the extreme honor and privilege of standing in line to hand over even more of your money to a total stranger. She will grunt and give you a piece of paper to hold in your hand for about five minutes. Then you get to rip up the piece of paper and throw it on the ground.

As you can no doubt tell, this is really, really fun. Most of us, though, don’t want to wait that long to lose our money. Thanks to the generous New Mexico Legislature, we don’t have to. These racetracks now have casinos attached so we can run down and play the slots between races.

It is said the total losses this year at the racetrack casinos will climb above the $175 million mark. This is good news for somebody, especially if you are one of the handful of guys who own the casinos. It is not particularly good news for the family that loses its house because of gambling debt.

A popular form of losing money is donating it to the New Mexico lottery. This has at least some social payback since the lottery profits are providing scholarships to New Mexico college students.

Many New Mexicans and their visitors prefer to hand their money over to any one of the many new bright, brassy, sprawling Indian casinos. That’s a pretty good deal because by law Indian casino slots have to pay out at least 80 percent of what is pumped into them over the life of the machine. As luck would have it, I have been pumping quarters into a very young machine that apparently plans to make it up to someone else when it gets older.

These Indian casinos are located, as one might imagine, on Indian tribal land. However, there is a new wrinkle in New Mexico gambling. One Indian tribe, the Jemez Pueblo northwest of Albuquerque, wants to build a casino on non-Indian land near Las Cruces.

Jemez Pueblo has teamed up with Santa Fe player Jerry Peters, Gov. Bill Richardson’s buddy, to pull this off. Franchising Indian casinos, like a string of hamburger stands is, in a word, dumb. And I am not the only one who thinks so.

New Mexico Attorney General Patricia Madrid thinks it is a bad idea. New Mexico Sen. Pete Domenici doesn’t like it. Nor does Congresswoman Heather Wilson or Congressman Steve Pearce. Hundreds of southern New Mexico residents have formed the Committee to Protect Dona Ana County —


Two people, though, are holding all the cards in this high-stakes poker game. They will decide the fate of the proposed casino. They are Bill Richardson and U.S. Interior Secretary Gale Norton.

Richardson has to be looking at his hold card. He has been quoted widely as saying there is enough gambling in New Mexico. Here’s his chance to do something about it.

Ned Cantwell is willing to bet the proposed casino won’t be approved. Contact him at: ncantwell@charter.net