I found myself traveling through the American Southwest recently and had a little time to kill while passing through New Mexico. On this page, you’ll find a trip report about my time spent playing slots at Sandia Resort and Tesuque Casino in Santa Fe.
On the trip, I came up through the White Sands Missile Range, the largest military installation in America. The endless beauty blended with the overhanging threat of annihilation put me in the mood to play slots.
Here’s a trip report detailing my slot machine adventure at casinos in New Mexico.
A Word on New Mexico Slot Machines
Real money slots fans who find themselves in the Land of Enchantment have just under 20,000 different machines to choose from statewide. Unfortunately, I can’t tell you anything about the relative volatility or return percentages of these machines, as this information isn’t required by law.
The New Mexico gambling scene is heavily tribal. Most of the state’s gambling properties are run by tribal groups which operate legally thanks to tribal compacts with the state government. A few commercial properties exist, but these depend on slot and gaming machine leases from tribal groups and are regulated by the same process as tribal gaming.
The only requirement in New Mexico casinos is that a slot machine payback is set to no less than 80%. That information is practically useless to slots players looking for games that give them a slightly better set of odds. We compare the theoretical return percentage of progressive slot games down to the hundredths of a percent sometimes, so telling us that games are set between 80 and 100% isn’t really helpful.
Santa Fe vs. Albuquerque
This short trip took me to the state’s two biggest cities, the quaint and artsy capital of Santa Fe and the bustling metropolis that is Albuquerque. If you visit these two cities on the same day, like I did, you’ll be struck by the difference between them.
Albuquerque is a working-class city, populated by employees of major aerospace and defense companies, energy technology companies, and various manufacturing groups. While it is a “college town” in the sense that it plays host to a major research institution in the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque is as varied a city as any major urban area in America.
See the TV megahit Breaking Bad for a sense of the town’s ever-present underbelly. Having referenced a show about cartels and meth, I’d like to point out that Albuquerque is widely acknowledged as the greenest city in America, with 45 square miles of open natural green space within the city limits.
Santa Fe is decidedly chic, more likely to be home to the owners of those major aerospace and defense companies than the people who work for them. A Santa Fe citizen is more than twice as likely to hold a college degree as a citizen of Albuquerque, and their average income is about $10,000 more per year.
Santa Fe is known as a center for fine art, representing one of the three biggest art markets in the Western Hemisphere. The restaurant and shopping scene is on fire, with one top-rated tiny boutique after another, all dotted with incredible restaurants.
I don’t prefer one city over the other. In fact, I think a blending of the two is the ideal way to learn about New Mexico. Albuquerque doesn’t take itself seriously. It’s the kind of town where you plan to take a walk around the neighborhood but end up having a couple beers at a neighbor’s backyard carne asada, having the time of your life.
Santa Fe is a great place to take a date, with amazing food and museums and perfect mountain scenery. Plus, they both have great weather.
Sandia Resort Trip Report
Located just north of Albuquerque, on the Pueblo of Sandia Village, the Sandia Resort & Casino is the biggest and (until the opening of the Tesuque in Santa Fe) the best-reviewed gambling hall in the US Southwest. Sandia is a Vegas-style site with an 18-hole golf course and practice range, a huge casino floor with more than 2,100 slot machines, and big, beautiful rooms with lots of picturesque views of the nearby Sandia mountains.
I’ll start with what I didn’t like at Sandia. There’s no alcohol allowed while gambling, long walks between the massive parking lot and the gaming floor as well as between the gaming floor and other amenities, and an annoying lingering smell of cigarette smoke, even in non-smoking areas.
It’s a three-reel slot with just nine pay lines and a 400-credit max bet. Denominations were typical for New Mexico, between $0.01 and $0.25 per credit, for a total bet range of $4 and $100 per spin. I stuck to the lower end of the scale and really enjoyed all the themed content.
The other game I really enjoyed at Sandia was Cash Money. It’s hard to describe this game effectively because I’ve never played a slot like it. Made by Everi (a slots software company I wasn’t familiar with before I played), it uses a nine-reel system with what the company calls “pattern-stacked” symbols to produce winnings.
It took me a few plays to get used to the new system, but I found the bonus rounds occurred frequently enough to hold my attention for a good hour of play.
I didn’t win a bunch of money or have a particularly awesome meal, so late in the afternoon, I started the long walk to my car to head up to Santa Fe and try out the new Tesuque Casino.
Tesuque Casino Santa Fe Trip Report
I left Sandia and started the drive up to Santa Fe and the Tesuque Casino, the newest and best-reviewed of all of New Mexico’s casino properties.
If you’ve never driven north out of Albuquerque on 25, you can’t really understand how the landscape changes, how your mindset shifts. Albuquerque is beautiful in parts, particularly the Petroglyph National Monument and the surrounding area just west of town. But ABQ can be just as scrubby and tough on the eyes as it can be enticing, until you drive about fifteen minutes north.
Having caught my breath after the beautiful trip between the two sites, I pulled into the parking lot at Tesuque almost exactly one hour after I left Sandia. It’s not a bad trip, and something I’d recommend to anyone gambling in the larger city to the south of Santa Fe. Start in Burque and end in the mountains.
The Tesuque Casino is built on the Tesuque Pueblo, home to the Tewa people who have called this area home for nearly 1,000 years.
What the Sandia offers in terms of sheer size and number of games the Tesuque offers in natural beauty and a slow-paced luxurious feel. There’s “only” 800 slot machines and 10 table games at the site, but that’s how it’s meant to be. Tesuque has the feel of a boutique hotel alongside hundreds of gaming options.
My favorite game I played at Tesuque was Xtreme Panda. This is a five-reel, three-row slot with 30 paylines that offers an expanding wilds and an expanding reels feature that increases wins with multipliers and increased hits.
Your dining options are limited here. The site just isn’t very big. What it lacks in size it makes up for in attention to detail. Maybe it’s just because this is a new building, but I was very impressed by the furnishings and environment at this spot.
My Final THoughts on This Slots Journey
Some 40 million people visit New Mexico each year, a big increase over the state’s numbers just a decade ago, when the numbers hovered about 20% lower. Those tourists bring their dollars – dropping an average of $200 apiece, for a $7 billion annual boon to the state coffers.
An increase in available gambling options has driven some of that bulge in tourist attention, though the state’s immaculate weather and relatively low cost of living are also responsible. Do I even need to mention the mountains or the fact that New Mexico is regularly rated the best value for winter sports?
When you’re ready to visit America’s wildest Southwest state and you want to stop off and do a little slots play, check out the Tesuque Casino Santa Fe for a high-class Vegas-style experience or stop outside of Albuquerque at Sandia Resort for more spa-like luxury treatment.
Just don’t expect to know much about the slots you play beforehand. I don’t have any information about which slots are the best or anything like that, and neither does anyone else. Play the games you enjoy and remember to come back and tell me all about it.