Tribal casinos make comeback in New Mexico, reaching pre-pandemic revenue levels

Tribal casinos in New Mexico are experiencing a resurgence as slot profits indicate a return to pre-pandemic levels. The COVID-19 health crisis and subsequent economic challenges had a severe impact on the tribal casino industry, leading to a complete halt in revenue in 2020 – but those times seem now over.

According to the New Mexico Gaming Control Board, gaming machines alone generated over $203 million in revenue from January to March this year. This figure is not only an improvement over the pandemic years but even slightly surpassed the revenue during the same period in 2019, indicating a recovery for tribal casinos.

Michelle Pato, the lead attorney for the New Mexico Gaming Control Board, acknowledged the difficulties faced by the industry during the pandemic. As reported by KRQE, she stated: “It’s hard in an industry that had to be non-existent during the pandemic. We don’t have online gaming here, so everything completely shut down.”

Even as conditions began to improve in 2021, ongoing rules and regulations, such as mask mandates, sanitation protocols, and social distancing requirements, continued to affect casino profits.

Pato explained: “You had the people that really can’t take those risks at all, so they’re not going out. There are people who maybe just don’t want to deal with all that.”

However, recent developments suggest a positive turnaround for tribal casinos. Pato expressed her optimism: “I’ve seen some enthusiasm, some desire to make things even better which is really nice to see, and that’s probably in the last year that I’ve really seen that happening.”

The state only tracks slot revenue as it is the only aspect subject to taxation. Sandia Resort & Casino emerged as the frontrunner, accumulating over $47 million in slot profits during the first three months of this year. This amount was nearly double the earnings of the next highest performers, Isleta Resort & Casino and Santa Ana Star Casino Hotel.