Gambling & Poker Laws in the State of New Mexico

An Overview Of Gambling Laws In The State Of New Mexico

Residents of New Mexico have a choice of brick and mortar casinos, both Tribal and commercial – and can enjoy betting and slots at this State’s many horse racing tracks. There are no specific laws covering internet gaming, and curiously this State quote the 2006 UIGEA on this on their official website. It does feel like they would prefer to see enforcement of online gambling laws left to the Feds, with no legal precedents known busts against either home games or online gamblers. This article gives you an overview of the current gambling laws and history of New Mexico.

First up below you will find a history (in quick-fire fashion) of the major events which have shaped the New Mexico gambling landscape. Below that is a run-through of what games are currently legal and which are not – followed by a more detailed look at the Statutes and legal timeline of this State. At the end of the page you will find a summary and a look at possible future legal scenarios.

New Mexico Gambling Laws – A Brief History

Gambling was super-quiet in New Mexico before the end of the 2nd World War. Though games undoubtedly went on during the earlier part of the century, every game of chance or skill was banned under the State’s initial criminal code. As with many neighboring south Western States, the tribal lands have been the driving force behind the legalization of casino gambling in this State.

Betting on Horse races was first legalized in 1947, this was for on-track pari-mutuel betting, and led to a boom in the racing industry for this State – which has one of the largest proportions of horses per person anywhere in the US. Concerned by the legalization of casinos in 1995, racing tracks were allowed to offer slots, which gave a boost to the industry. In fact, horse-racing is back on the rise again, and a new track opened at Zia Park.

Indian tribes were offering bingo games and class 1 gaming machines through the 1980s. The Federal Indian Gaming Act of 1988 forced the hand of many States as far as negotiating compacts was concerned. However, in New Mexico the religious Governor, Bruce King, refused to sign the compacts. This cost him financial support and eventually his seat, and the compacts were duly signed in 1995 by his successor Gary Johnson. These allowed the full range of casino games to be offered including table games, slots and poker.

This led to a boom in casinos, with some very lavish establishments available throughout the State. While there have been legal challenges to the amount of revenue sharing required, things have been smooth with the casinos operating uninterrupted for many years. In 2011, commercial casinos were licensed on non-tribal lands, increasing the choices still further.

There is no social poker carve-out or regulated online poker sites in this State. Poker fans are well catered for at the casinos. Nobody has ever been prosecuted here for playing in a small stakes home game, or for playing online – which the New Mexico authorities see as prohibited under the Federal UIGEA laws. There are no official records of discussions or acts being put forward concerning regulated online gambling. The central assumption with these ‘have gambling, but say nothing about the internet’ States, is that they are unlikely to be in any initial wave of legal online poker regulators – though there is nothing to rule them out from joining later, once successes have been seen elsewhere.

What Types Of Gambling Are Legal?

Casino Gambling: Yes, there are 9 tribal casinos which offer a full range of table games and slots in New Mexico, in addition you can play slots games at many racetracks.

Online Casinos: No, there are no specific State laws making online gambling games illegal. In fact the official gaming control board website mentions the Federal UIGEA as making online gambling illegal instead.

Live Poker: Yes, you can enjoy live poker at all of the Tribal casinos and at the State licensed casinos too. Social poker games are not carved out under the law, though there are no records of non-raked social home-games getting busted in this State.

Online Poker: No, again, the State believe that the UIGEA at Federal level outlaws online gambling, though they have no specific statutes banning it at the State level. There is currently no word of any discussions on whether to legalize online poker, despite neighboring Nevada going ahead with this.

Sports Betting: Only Pari-Mutuel betting at Racetracks – horse racing is popular here and has a long history.

Lottery Betting: Yes, New Mexico has a popular lottery which includes inter-State games as well as those of State residents only.

Bingo Games: Yes, there is a carve-out for legal bingo and raffle type games for charities. In addition the Tribes run high stakes bingo games.

New Mexico Gambling Laws – Timeline Of Key Statutes

New Mexico is one of several States who have made the ‘bet’ the illegal component, and have defined this loosely enough to ensure that just about every type of gambling is included. Bad news for poker players who like to use the ‘skill game’ argument – chance and skill are both covered in the Statutes.

One piece I found interesting is that New Mexico also make passing of gambling information illegal. For example recording or forwarding bets. While there is nothing on the books which specifically mentions the internet, it does feel like this could be a tricky part of the law to deal with should the State wish to crack down on offshore gambling.

Here are some excerpts:

“bet” means a bargain in which the parties agree that, dependent upon chance, even though accompanied by some skill, one stands to win or lose anything of value specified in the agreement. ” (from 30-19-1. Definitions relating to gambling)

receiving, holding, recording or forwarding bets or offers to bet;


There are exclusions for antique gambling devices and for seniors wanting to play bingo socially too.

Here is the timeline of gambling laws in New Mexico, along with how these have affected gamblers within this State.

1947: First legal Pari-Mutuel Horse race betting starts at Hollywood park, which has since changed its name to Ruisdoso Park.

1978: Carve out for Charity gambling, plus bingo games legalized for seniors for small stakes and not involving profit for the organizer.

1990: State government task force formed to negotiate compacts with Native Tribes, this was instigated by the 1988 Federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. Governor Bruce King refused to sign the deals, losing financial support from the Tribes and ultimately failing to be re-elected.

1995: Tribal compacts become law and the casinos that New Mexican’s know and love today were established, offering table games and poker in addition to the slots and bingo games of previous years. Horse racing tracks were allowed to feature slot machines as part of this deal.

1995: Then Governor Gary Johnson signs the creation of the New Mexico lottery into law. The first draw (and scratch-card tickets) would be made the following year. The lottery profits support educational scholarships and good causes.

2011: Approval given for non-Tribal casinos including the first inside of a major city- the Albuquerque Downs Casino.

New Mexico Gambling Laws – Summary And A Look To The Future

New Mexico residents have a great choice of casinos, poker rooms and race-tracks – in addition to a popular lottery. This State are unusual in quoting federal legislation which covers banking transactions and saying this makes the playing of online gambling games illegal. Prosecutions for gambling are few and far between here, indicating a softly-softly approach.

I can’t see New Mexico being first in the queue for the next regulated online gambling territories – though there is nothing to rule out some movement in this direction in the future.

Useful Resources:

History Indian Perspective


Gaming Control Board

Summary Of The Gaming Statutes

Gambling Laws US