More Casinos for New Mexico? - April 17, 2013

New Mexico could get a new casino and a new racino...

There is a real possibility that New Mexico could gain two new casinos in the near future in parts of the state where there currently is not a lot of competition.

The Fort Sill Apaches have stepped up their efforts to get an Indian Casino in southwestern New Mexico and it appears that another racino could open in the near future.

The New Mexico Racing Commission is scheduled to meet later this month and could possibly open the process again for the awarding of the sixth and final racino license in New Mexico. The license originally had been awarded during Gov. Bill Richardson's administration to a group wanting to put the horserace track and casino (racino) in Raton, but the group failed to break ground in the allotted time and the license was rescinded.

One of the contenders at that time was the Pueblo of Pojoaque, owners of the long-vacant Downs at Santa Fe. Pojoaque was the choice of many in the racing industry, but the governor-appointed Racing Commission opted for Raton. Racinos differ from Indian gaming in that they must have a horse race meet, a portion of the net win must go to purses for racing, there is a limit on the number of gaming machines a racino can feature and there are no table games.

For a while it appeared Gov. Susana Martinez's administration would not grant another license, but there still is interest from the same Raton group that wants to put the facility in Tucumcari and another group representing Lordsburg. All three of these locations are on major interstate highways, all border other states and all three are in areas that could use an economic boost. Pojoaque, which since has opened Buffalo Thunder Resort & Casino, has not publically stated if they are interested in seeking the final license.

The addition of another Indian casino perhaps faces bigger hurdles. For one thing, the tribe that wants to open the casino is not even located in New Mexico. Fort Sill is in Oklahoma, but the tribe contends that its ancestral lands included much of southwest New Mexico. The Fort Sill Apaches, who trace their lineage to Geronimo and the Warm Springs and Chiricahua bands, were moved by the U.S. Government from their indigenous lands more than 100 years ago and ended up in Oklahoma. 

Fort Sill wants to put its casino on a 30-acre parcel of land on Interstate 10 between Las Cruces and Deming (about 20 miles east of Deming). After several failed attempts, the tribe currently is going through a federal review process in an attempt to open the casino.

The Dona Ana County Commission recently voted on a state of support for their effort and the Pueblo of Pojoaque has provided a letter of support. The Mescalero Apaches, who own Inn of the Mountain Gods resort and casino 150 miles away, are opposed to Fort Sill’s efforts to open a new gaming operation. The Sunland Park Racetrack and Casino, located in New Mexico but bordering the populous El Paso/Juarez metroplex, is located about 76 miles to the southwest.