NM lawmakers can’t let rogue sports betting ride
When the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a federal law earlier this year banning sports gaming in most states, justices made it clear that states should decide the issue, not the federal government. “The legalization of sports gambling requires an important policy choice, but the choice is not ours to make,” Justice Samuel Alito wrote in the majority opinion. “Congress can regulate sports gambling directly, but if it elects not to do so, each State is free to act on its own.” Each state — not each casino or lottery. But rather than wait for state lawmakers and the new governor to make the call, Santa Ana Star Casino has opened a new sports book with full sports betting accessibility. And the New Mexico Lottery Authority has announced plans for a new sports lottery game.
And so there is an ongoing debate on whether Santa Ana and the lottery are breaking the law. The smart money is on “yes.” The real question is what will authorities do about it.
Rep. Jason Harper, R-Rio Rancho, argues that tying sports betting into a lottery game makes it illegal, and he plans to ask the Attorney General’s Office to weigh in on the matter. “My view is that if the lottery moves forward with sports betting, that’s illegal,” he said. “This is them going rogue like they have gone with the ‘Play at the Pump” (the Lottery’s ticket sales at gas pumps despite legislators rejecting such debit-card sales twice). They never had the authority to do that.”
Guy Clark, chairman of Stop Predatory Gambling New Mexico, agrees. But he argues Santa Ana Star Casino is also breaking the law. He maintains that, under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) of 1988, “‘Class III gaming activities shall be lawful on Indian lands only if such activities are (B) located in a State that permits such gaming for any purpose by any person, organization, or entity. …’ New Mexico has not legalized sports betting, distinctively different from legalized gambling activities already in our state, therefore Santa Ana Pueblo is violating federal law in opening its sports betting operation.”
Rep. Antonio “Moe” Maestas, D-Albuquerque, maintains that Santa Ana Star Casino isn’t breaking the law, saying the Supreme Court did legalize sports betting in New Mexico because the state uses the federal definition for Class III gambling, which includes sports betting. He says the lottery plan is more of a gray area. Here’s the bottom line: In rushing to capitalize on the Supreme Court ruling, the Lottery Board and Santa Ana are at minimum doing an end run around the state Legislature and the state’s Indian gaming compacts, violating the spirit, and likely the letter, of the laws. Unlike the current situation with Play at the Pump, that arrogance cannot be left unchecked. Attorney General Hector Balderas and his staff need to sort through state statutes, case law and the Supreme Court decision and issue an opinion as to whether Santa Ana Star Casino and the lottery authority are violating state law. And if the AG’s Office determines they are operating outside the law, he should take the lottery to court and, in the case of Santa Ana Star Casino, ask the U.S. attorney to step in.
Meanwhile, state lawmakers should take up the issue when they convene in January. As the U.S. Supreme Court ruled, it’s a policy issue for states to decide. That decision shouldn’t be abdicated to casinos and lottery officials who care first and foremost about expanding the gambling universe to make a few extra bucks regardless of the implications.
And it bears repeating that professional sports leagues and the NCAA argue that a gambling expansion will hurt the integrity of their games, and the NFL, NBA and MLB are calling for regulatory framework.
Beyond that, lawmakers and Gov.-elect Michelle Lujan Grisham should consider the social implications of sports gambling to New Mexicans. The fact is that half of our state’s residents are on Medicaid, and one in four is on food stamps. If history is any indication, many of those who can least afford it will bet on games regularly, digging a deeper financial hole for themselves and their families.
Given that reality, New Mexicans simply can’t afford for state leaders to let this rogue sports gambling ride.