They say New Mexico is the Land of Enchantment.
It turns out that familiar slogan is just an invention of a high-minded group of Madison Avenue ad wizards from the early 20th century. Not to ruin the mystique or anything, but I actually find New Mexico to be almost literally enchanting.
Some combination of the ridiculously abundant natural beauty of the state along with its high altitude, amazing food, and legal gambling puts me in a kind of spell.
Another important point to make about visiting the high desert southwest—if you’ve never had a breakfast burrito in this state, you’re completely missing out on what should be a food group all its own.
This post is generally about three casinos that I would recommend to just about anyone visiting New Mexico. But it’s also about the state in general, and why I encourage people to visit whenever I can.
These three New Mexico-based gambling halls are the best I’ve experienced and the ones I’ve got the most to say about. I’ll try to make specific recommendations about the casino and the area around it as often as I can.
#1 – Sandia Resort & Casino
30 Rainbow Rd NE, Albuquerque, NM 87113
This is by far the largest casino of any kind in New Mexico. This concert venue, casino, and hotel complex is located on the Sandia Pueblo reservation just outside Albuquerque. The casino floor is 110,000 square feet.
To put that into perspective, if the Sandia Resort & Casino were in Las Vegas, it would be on the list of top 20 casinos in terms of size. The Sandia complex is home to the best outdoor amphitheater in the state, an 18-hole golf course, a top-rated spa facility, and an active convention center.
The casino is home to 1,750 slots and 600 video poker machines, easily one of the biggest collections of electronic gambling options outside of Las Vegas and Atlantic City. Come to think of it, those numbers would be impressive in any of America’s gambling hotspots.
I understand that live events are touch and go during this time, due to health and safety concerns and restrictions. But New Mexico is easing up and is well-placed on the list of vaccinated states, so I expect they’ll return to hosting awesome shows eventually.
Sandia is a must-visit because of its size, the variety of Vegas-like experiences you can have there, and the natural beauty surrounding it. Let’s be honest, some parts of the desert southwest aren’t postcard worthy. People who visit Sandia often talk about the view, which in some places is a fully unobstructed look at the Sandia Mountains.
Sunrises and sunsets are famous in this part of the country, and during the summer and early fall, a stay at this spot means lots of chances for Instagram-worthy color shows. Some of my best sunset pictures comes from this area of New Mexico.
#2 – Route 66 Casino Hotel
14500 Central Ave SW, Albuquerque, NM 87121
Located on the Laguna Pueblo, just outside the heart of Albuquerque, Route 66 Casino Hotel plays on the fact that Route 66 once ran straight through this part of town and depends on that for its theme. Lots of faux Old Vegas stuff going on, not too heavily themed but it is obviously there.
I love that Route 66 is open 7 AM to 2 AM. Its location, super close to the state’s biggest city, is a plus. You can get from the airport to Route 66 in about fifteen minutes. The site is now home to two bars and four different restaurants including a buffet that runs breakfast items all day long.
Gamblers will find 1,900 gaming machines, a smattering of table games like roulette and blackjack, and a fun bingo hall that’s popular with locals. All of the restaurants and bars are readily accessible from the gaming floor, which is impressively large for an urban gambling site.
I’m not 100% sure about this but this seems like one of the only casinos in the state that has an attached sportsbook simply called The Book. I know of one other book, because I’ve visited it, at the Santa Ana Sportsbook Casino a lot further away from Albuquerque.
Your options here are pretty similar to what you’d find in Las Vegas sportsbooks, including OTB horse and dog racing bets, parlays, and traditional sports wagers. For the record, the books at Route 66 and Santa Ana seem basically identical, though if you’re in Albuquerque, Route 66 is much closer.
I don’t think you can gamble any earlier than 7 AM anywhere in the state. So, if you’re an early riser or if your trip to the Land of Enchantment involves an early arrival, you might consider this spot for that reason alone.
If you’re looking for something a little more thrilling than pulling a slot machine handle, or maybe a post-gambling thrill to help you forget your losses, check out the Sandia Speedway just a few minutes east along Route 66.
It’s hard to predict what you’ll see here, but it’s going to be loud and fast. My last visit, I stumbled on this spot, had a handful of handmade tortillas with butter from a cart, and watched an insane variety of races along the well-worn oval track. Hard to explain, but I promise you’ll have an unforgettable experience there.
#3 – Sunland Park Racetrack and Casino
1200 Futurity Dr. Sunland Park, NM 88063
Just nine miles from the Texas border, Sunland Park Racetrack and Casino makes their collection of 700 slot and video poker machines easily available to the millions of willing bettors from the Lone Star State. Sunland Park operates their large slot and video poker casino alongside a popular horse racing track with OTB facilities.
This is a historic site for the state’s gaming industry. Sunland Park was New Mexico’s only gambling venue for years. Opened in 1959 exclusively as a horse racing track (and eventually an OTB), the venue only added casino-style gambling in 1999.
A recent addition to Sunland Park is a small hotel attached to the casino itself. The hotel added a couple of dining options. You can order from four different themed menus, and they serve a cheap afternoon buffet every day, along with limited menus through 9 PM or 10 PM, which is okay considering the casino kicks everybody out by 1 AM.
This one’s a can’t-miss because of its history, its blended setting, and the fact that it’s the biggest gambling venue in the southern part of the state. The mix of casino patrons is unique. Sunland Park is adjacent to Mexico (Specifically, Ciudad Juarez) and to El Paso, Texas.
The city was formed in 1983 by vote, when three smaller municipal areas banded together during a committee meeting. It has a population of some 18,000 people as of the most recent census—large for a city 42 miles from its county seat. The city surrounding the casino is far more Mexican and Texan in identity than New Mexican, if that makes any sense.
If you’re willing to drive a half hour to Las Cruces, you can check out a couple of my favorite places. The first is Okazuri Floating Sushi Bar right there on University Ave. near New Mexico State. You may think I’m crazy for recommending sushi in a city that’s 1,000 miles from any ocean, but I can vouch for the quality of this spot. Try the Frida Roll, you won’t be disappointed.
My other recommendation for Las Cruces is The Zuhl Museum right there on the NMSU campus. You can only get in between noon and 4 PM from Tuesday through Friday, as it’s staffed by upper-level students and some professors. This is a museum and collection dedicated to cool rocks, and if it sounds boring, just trust me. A buddy took me while we killed some time, and his three-year-old kid was absolutely fascinated by it, as was I. Plan to spend about an hour.
Our Thoughts on These New Mexico Casinos
A visit to New Mexico casinos is so much more than a Breaking Bad tour. In fact, tourism is one of the state’s major industries. You’re going to have a good time, and you’re going to have lots of choices when you make plans to tour the state and see what it has to offer.
Lots of people are visiting the state, whether its for skiing, hunting, hiking, or the state’s burgeoning cannabis industry, which as of this writing just went fully recreational. And I thought I should share some of my personal experiences and knowledge about gambling in one of the last really wild states in America.