Archives For New Mexico

It’s hard to see why it makes any sense to approve the new Navajo gambling compact, especially when you consider that all the other gaming tribes are able to have the same agreement and all of them will live on for another 22 years.

There is little doubt that there is a serious problem gambling problem in New Mexico. Yet the new compact continues the practice of asking the gaming tribes to do very little about the problem they are creating.

The National Council on Problem Gambling estimates that 1.2% of New Mexicans (18,795) are problem gamblers. The private agency selected by the gaming tribes and racinos to provide treatment to problem gamblers reports that it treated 196 problem gamblers in 2014.

The gaming tribes provide little money for treatment. For example, the new Navajo compact will only require the Navajo casinos to provide around $200,000 of their $80 million net win to support treatment of problem gamblers.

Plus we have no information about the nature of these services or the results.

At the same time, the Navajo compact would extend the hours of casino operation, allow casinos to extend credit to gamblers, and also allow them to provide more than $2 million in food and lodging to selected gamblers each year.

We can expect this will only add to the numbers of problem gamblers without adequate treatment.

In an opinion piece in the New York Times a few weeks back, the writer said he was glad to be leaving Albuquerque because it was a “land of violence” where the rate of violent crime was twice the national average.

While the article provoked lots of discussion locally, the writer’s views of the city were not challenged by anyone at the City or State or in the local press. As one who frequently travels to large urban areas around the country, I found it hard to believe Albuquerque is extraordinarily dangerous. Could it be that I’m oblivious to the level of crime in the areas of the City I don’t frequent?

The FBI Crime Statistics for 2012 (the most recent full-year FBI numbers available) do indeed state that the rate of violent crime in Albuquerque is twice that of the country as a whole.

So Albuquerque is the most dangerous place in the country, right? Not exactly.

It turns out that of the 74 U.S. cities with more than 250,000 people, only 7 had violent crime rates lower than the national rate. It doesn’t take a lot of imagination to figure that large urban areas would experience more violent crime than do smaller cities or rural areas. The FBI numbers confirm that.

In the FBI ranking of large cities, Albuquerque comes in not at number 1 in violent crime but at number 29.

Among the 28 large cities that have higher rates of violent crime than Albuquerque, some a great deal higher, are Houston, Tulsa, Kansas City, Nashville, Oklahoma City and Las Vegas, Nevada. The writer of the Times article said he thought Albuquerque felt more like the Mission District in San Francisco than Tucson where he’d previously lived. Yet the rate of violent crime in Tucson is just below Albuquerque’s, ranking only 5 places behind it.

In any event, the FBI and the American Society of Criminology both caution against ranking cities based on FBI crime data.

The FBI on its web site says its data should not be used for rankings because they lead to “simplistic and/or incomplete analyses that often create misleading perceptions adversely affecting cities and counties, along with their residents.”

In November 2007, the executive board of the American Society of Criminology (ASC) approved a resolution opposing not only the use of the ratings to judge police departments, but also opposing any development of city crime rankings from FBI Uniform Crime Reports.

The ASC resolution opposed such rankings on the grounds that they “fail to account for the many conditions affecting crime rates” and “divert attention from the individual and community characteristics that elevate crime in all cities”, though it did not provide sources or further elaborate on these claims.

The ASC resolution also states the rankings “represent an irresponsible misuse of the data and do groundless harm to many communities” and “work against a key goal of our society, which is a better understanding of crime-related issues by both scientists and the public”.

Certainly the City can and should do better in many ways but some perspective is in order.

The three gaming casinos on the Navajo Reservation have created badly-needed jobs on the reservation. But a proposed gaming compact negotiated by the Governor’s office extending and expanding gaming on the Navajo reservation should not be approved by the Legislature unless it expressly permits the approval by the State of online gaming. In 2011, the U.S. Justice Department declared that online gaming did not violate federal law. Nevada, Delaware and New Jersey have since authorized online gaming and eight other states have it under consideration. Many expect it to be adopted across the country. If New Mexico approved online gaming, the state could gain badly needed revenues. While the wisdom of expanding gaming in New Mexico is certainly debatable, the state has other options, given that online gaming could have a potentially devastating effect on tribal casinos. For example, the state could offer the gaming tribes a deal under which it would agree not to authorize online gaming if the tribes agreed to badly-needed updates to their gaming compacts. These updates would include:

  • Increased revenue sharing to replace the revenue lost by not authorizing online gaming.
  • More comprehensive regulatory oversight. The LFC staff reports it currently is not possible to determine if tribal casinos are in compliance with their compacts.  
  • Shortening the inexplicably long terms of the compacts. Many casinos have been operating since 2001 or earlier and most of the current compacts are dated 2007. But they won’t expire for another 24 years. Arizona’s gaming compacts are much shorter. 
  • Limit the deployment of so-called Class II gaming machines on which tribes are not required to share revenue. Originally, Class II gaming meant bingo games. But now tribal casinos are increasingly deploying so-called Class II bingo gaming machines that look and play like slot machines except that no revenue from these machines is shared with the state. In 2012, the Navajo Nation opened a casino devoted exclusively to Class II gaming machines that does not share revenues with the state.
  • Require, as Arizona does, that gaming tribes share some of their revenues with non-gaming tribes not so fortunate as to be located on interstate highways.
  • Require the tribal casinos to compensate local governments for the emergency services provided to them. 
  • Resolve the controversial “free play” promotions where casinos entice gamblers by letting them pay for free but if the gambler wins, the winnings are used to reduce the “net win” shared with the state.
  • Perhaps most importantly, the programs of assistance to problem gamblers that casinos are required to be provide must be enhanced. The state must be allowed to assess the extent of problem gaming, gauge the effectiveness of the treatment gaming tribes are providing and make sure enough resources are devoted to treatment.   

There is good reason to believe that problem gambling in New Mexico is far more serious problem than we now believe. A series of articles on problem gambling recently appeared in Oregon’s leading newspaper, The Oregonian. The state of Oregon contracted for an extensive study of problem gambling in that state. The study concluded that most of the revenues from the state’s licensed slot and poker machines come from just a sliver of players who lose thousands of dollars yearly, primarily from slot and video poker gaming machines. The study found that problem gamblers typically remained at slot and poker gaming machines until their wallets were empty. Past studies of problem gambling have reached similar conclusions. A recent book by an MIT scientist details how math experts and neuroscientists were hired by by gaming machine manufacturers to create whole new generations of electronic slots meant to attract younger customers used to playing arcade-style video games. The idea, says the author, is to lull players into a sense that they’re winning even as they lose 60-90% of the money they put in these machines. The newspaper reports that new gaming machines will soon be available in Oregon, and likely in New Mexico, that are designed to be even more addictive than those now in use. It’s important for New Mexico to discover whether the scope of problem gaming in New Mexico is similar to that of Oregon. The New Mexico Council on Problem Gaming, designated by the gaming casinos and racinos to carry out their obligations to assist problem gamblers, chooses not to disclose the number of problem gamblers that have contacted it. However, its most recent annual report states that 72 percent of problem gamblers who have contacted NMCPG primarily use slot machines. These gamblers averaged 21 hours per week at casinos and they had average gambling debts of $11,600. The NMCPG also reports that in 2012 tribal casinos and racinos provided a total of only $212,000 to NMCPG to treat problem gamblers, one-eighth of what is spent in Arizona for treatment. Whatever happens with the proposed Navajo compact, the decision whether to authorize online gaming does not have to be made now. That question will, however, become a moot point if the Legislature approves the Navajo compact without assurance that future approval of online gaming is permissible and does not relieve the Navajo casinos of the obligation to share revenues with the State.