Gambling in Santa Fe County

Guest Post by Larry Seeley

A few facts about Santa Fe County:


Population: 145,000

Median individual income (all people): $32,000

Median individual income, excluding the top ten percent: $23,000*

Number of casinos: 5


*The top ten percent of income earners in Santa Fe County do not represent a demographic that gambles for small stakes in Native casinos. The other ninety percent are comprised mainly of penny players and people with little disposable income (think “Occupy Wall Street”).


A new destination resort/casino opened near Santa Fe in the autumn of 2008, financed by issuing development bonds to the tune of almost two hundred forty-five million dollars. Since that time, the bonds have been renegotiated, no payments to bondholders have occurred, and Moody’s has dropped them to (WR) which means they no longer rate their value.


Built in an area that already supported four other casinos by sucking dry the aforementioned penny players, the new facility needed to tap outside resources in order to survive, let alone prosper. To that end, the Pueblo partnered with Hilton to operate a three hundred-eighty-five room hotel and championship golf course. Hilton is not affiliated with the gaming operation, although the bonds financed all construction.


Prior to the 2008 recession, seventy percent was the average Santa Fe occupancy rate for downtown hotels. Since then, occupancy rates in Santa Fe for all hotels, including downtown, have ranged between fifty and sixty percent. Today’s Hilton would be fortunate to enjoy forty-five percent occupancy, including an unusually high number of complimentary rooms.


The sad truth is that big-time gamblers (or even small-timers) are not going to fly to Albuquerque, then travel sixty miles by rental car or van to play in a casino that does not offer player credit and has limited table games. Especially when there are several larger casinos in the Albuquerque area offering much better gaming options—or Las Vegas, where persons of average wealth with reasonable credit can obtain a gambling credit line.


Experts estimate that the newest casino and its older companion casino (two of the five local operations) need to win fifty million annually in order to meet their minimum financial requirements which include revenue share payments to the state (not made since opening) and scheduled payments to their bondholders (never made). How do you gouge that much cash out of a casino-saturated population that has little disposable income?


The Pueblo and the Las Vegas management company hired to run the operations, obviously believe that you accomplish that by squeezing every last cent from patrons by reducing player perks to all-time lows and reconfiguring slot machines.


The first, reducing perks, is a known fact and broadcast in monthly newsletters. The second is only an assumption. There is no proof that slot payouts at have been reduced by changing the slot machine configuration, but anecdotally, jackpots have declined by sixty percent over the past eighteen months. Circumstantial evidence that something major has changed.


New Mexico State law, as agreed to in gaming compacts with Tribes and Pueblos, sets a minimum payback of eighty percent on slot machines. Compare this with the average Las Vegas payback of ninety-four percent, and the difference is clear. Santa Fe local casinos have typically set slot payback at ninety percent (the nationwide average for Native casinos). Add that to perks like free play, meals, contests, tournaments, etc., and you can get close to ninety-eight percent—maybe more, depending on your play. With smaller perks and reduced payback, the odds of winning are virtually nil.


To attempt to wring money from a population that can’t afford it (including Pueblo members) is unconscionable. Does a Las Vegas-based corporation have the right to siphon that kind of wealth from the local economy?


The jobs and advertising revenue generated by casinos are important, but they do not offset the tragedy of driving people from average to extreme poverty. The County and State governments don’t need to eliminate the operations, but they need to more closely regulate them and enforce existing agreements and laws. It’s only fair.




Larry Seeley, author of the award-winning Jack Sloan mystery/suspense novels, Gypsies, Tramps, and Thieves (April 2010), 17 Degrees North (May 2012), and The Bridge of the Americas lives twenty miles north of Santa Fe in a high desert valley bounded on the east by the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and on the west by the Jemez range.


He and his wife, Katie, care for several chickens, eleven cats, and four dogs on their secluded rancho. Both are active in finding foster and adoptive homes for lost and abandoned pets. Larry spends his spare time working with his publisher to finalize the third novel in the Border Wars Trilogy, Bridge of the Americas and writing a fourth, The Placebo Effect (coming August 2014).


His experience ranges from CEO of a multi-national corporation to professional blackjack player. An army veteran, he speaks, reads and writes fluent Arabic. Among his many vocations, he considers building a Native casino in New Brunswick, Canada among the most educational.




Posted on August 16, 2013, in Blogging Authors, Writing & Publishing. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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