NM law­mak­ers can’t let rogue sports bet­ting ride

Albuquerque Journal - - OPINION -

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.

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