Inside the Capitol

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Casino on Another Corner

SANTA FE – Not a week goes by without some segment of New Mexico’s ever-expanding gaming industry moving us a little closer to the casino-on-every-corner situation that we have worried about so often before.
Last week that corner was the busy intersection of Central and Louisiana in Albuquerque, where the State Fair is considering opening an easily-accessible casino.
Pushing the envelope, once again, just as every other gambling establishment in the state is doing, the Downs at Albuquerque wants to build a casino well away from its horse track by arguing that it still is on the premises of the state fairgrounds.
The casinos at the other four horse tracks in the state are closely connected to their grandstands. This casino would be nowhere near the grandstand, but it would be near a neighborhood that already is bothered by prostitutes and panhandlers along Central Avenue.
This will add other undesirable elements that show up near gambling establishments. And it will encourage other horse tracks to follow suit. It will also establish a precedent of casinos in busy downtown areas. The Picuris Pueblo, for instance owns the Hotel Santa Fe on busy Cerrillos Road, near the historic Santa Fe plaza.
Elsewhere, at the Ohkay Casino at San Juan Pueblo on the northern outskirts of Espanola, a new class of slot machines that technically aren’t slot machines by law, are making their first appearance in the state. It is likely they will escape the revenue-sharing arrangement contained in the gaming compacts that allow Indian casinos to exist.
The casino operator argues that the new machines are merely an attempt to give patrons more variety and that dodging required payments to the state never had anything to do with the decision. Yeah right. And watch how quickly that spreads to other casinos.
The Black Gold Casino in Hobbs opened two weeks ago. That’s the one that will be at the Zia Park racetrack. The track hasn’t been built yet and won’t be ready for racing for almost a year, but the law allows casinos to open right away.
The first two weeks of activity have been phenomenal, according to track officials. People stand outside in pouring rain waiting to get in and then stand in line at the 600 slot machines, waiting to play. On opening day, the parking lot had to be closed because it was full.
Reportedly most of the license plates were from Texas, which is exactly what the local folks had hoped. Restaurants and motels are full. The nearest casino is in Ruidoso, a three-hour drive from Hobbs, and even farther for the Texans.
Obviously there is no shortage of people willing to lose their money. Folks in Dona Ana County, who are trying to limit their casinos to the one currently operating at Sunland Park track, claim that the area cannot support more than one casino.
Unfortunately that is the wrong argument to be using. Southern Dona Ana County and the Las Cruces/El Paso/Juarez area from which it can draw, is many times larger that northern Santa Fe County, which already has three casinos doing so well that two more are preparing to open. And there are several more casinos within a 50-mile radius of the area.
The best argument against a proliferation of gambling is the undesirable elements that always follow, the gambling addiction problems that are created, and the local businesses, offering more wholesome entertainment, that are hurt.
I prefer to lose my money in Las Vegas, Nevada. They are the pros at gambling and entertainment. They have developed a means of dealing with the criminal and other unsavory elements that show up where there is gambling. And they can show you a great time, with much variety.
New Mexico, however, is just digging its hole deeper, increasing the number of problems it eventually will have to face.


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