ew Mexico Rep. Ray Lara is sponsoring a bill that would allow the racinos at the state’s horse racing tracks to full-service casinos, with live poker, blackjack, craps and a sportsbook.
New Mexico’s college scholarship program has been funded by gambling revenue ever since the Lottery Scholarship Fund was started in 1996. With that fund no longer able to cover full tuition costs for students, the change would generate an estimated $40 million a year, with $15 million of that going into the scholarship fund, and the rest to the General Fund, as reported by Las Cruces Sun News. Lara argued during a recent news conference that the bill would have the dual benefit of helping more students and boosting the economy through increased tourism.
The Sunland Park Racetrack and Casino is on the outskirts of El Paso. Lara said 85 percent of its revenue comes from out of state. “I truly believe this is a win-win for the state as a whole,” he said. “This is going to benefit our young people. This is going to bring jobs. This is going to bring additional revenue to our communities and to our state.”
New Mexico’s five racetracks, in Farmington, Hobbs, Ruidoso, Albuquerque and Sunland Park, all have casinos attached to them. Along with slot machines, they also offer poker, blackjack and roulette, but not with live dealers, cards and spinning wheels. Only the video versions are available, and sports bettors are now limited to just horseracing. Under the proposal, the new casinos would be managed and operated by the New Mexico Lottery.
Bill co-sponsor Sen. Bill O’Neill, D-Albuquerque, said that along with bolstering the Lottery scholarship, it would also bring millions of dollars to the General Fund at a time when lawmakers are looking for new revenue sources. “We’re all looking at these different potential sources of revenue,” he said. “The legalization of marijuana is going to be a big focus this coming session, and tax reform is going to be a big focus. So thematically, I think it’s good timing for the bill.”
Opposition to the bill will likely come from tribal casinos. The Inn of the Mountain Gods Casino near Ruidoso opened its sportsbook in 2019.
The Legislature will meet in a 60-day session starting Tuesday in Santa Fe. The governor’s state of the state address will be streamed Tuesday afternoon on the Legislature’s website, along with all floor sessions and committee meetings throughout the 60 days.