ALBUQUERQUE CASINOS IN GENERAL
My opinion of gambling in Albuquerque, New Mexico is significantly different now than what it was if you had asked me about it in early 2018. In early 2018, I would have said the gambling – craps in particular – was the best in the entire United States, from a pure gambling perspective.
What Albuquerque lacked in the bright lights of Las Vegas, it made up for in sweet gambling deals, inexpensive but delicious food, and friendly staff. The delicious food and friendly staff remain, but the sweet gambling deals are gone.
The best deal was the free buy 4 and 10 on the craps game. There were some other promotions, such as some of the best blackjack games in the country, along with some very good video poker machines. I also won two drawings for free chips, something which never happened anywhere else. The drawings in the Albuquerque casinos were frequent.
Every casino in Albuquerque had the free buy 4 and 10.
Also, note that there was an additional ‘promotion’ that was very low key. I will disclose this promotion when my Albuquerque host moves on. I’m pretty sure that eventually, she’ll move elsewhere. For now, I’ve promised not to mention the promotion while she’s at the casino. It’s literally the best promotion ever and was an open secret to a few people.
Starting about mid-2018, all the casinos decided to stop the promotions. It’s like they got together in a room and said, ‘let’s stop with this promotional nonsense’.
So now, if you ask me about Albuquerque casinos, I would tell you that the only upside is that the food is cheap and the table games are inexpensive. Craps, blackjack, and most table games are $5 minimums.
This review is of the Santa Ana Star casino.
THE SANTA ANA STAR CASINO
The Santa Ana Star, hereinafter the ‘Star’ is a Native American casino that is a class 2 gaming facility. That means the house banks all the games.
The casino has the usual mix of games, such as blackjack, craps, roulette, and Pai Gow Poker. The Pai Gow poker variant is commission free Pai Gow poker, where the dealer pushes on a Queen high Pai Gow.
At some point (unknown when), the Star remodeled. For those who have been to the Star in past years, this is what it looks like from the outside now. It’s much fancier.
This is the inside lobby.
The first time I went to the Star, the casino comped my room and then sent me to a shady motel down the street. That was years ago.
The current Star has 204 rooms.
Once inside the lobby, there is an escalator up to the casino.
After the escalator ride up, this is what you will see. I’m still somewhat amazed by how nice the Star is compared to its’ past iteration.
The casino floor…
I still can’t get over how much the Star had changed from my first visit. It’s a much nicer casino. I walked around the casino floor just to have a look around and take some pics.
The Santa Ana Star also has the only casino operated legal sports book in Albuquerque. According to the floor, it’s the only one in New Mexico. That was his claim. I can’t verify if that’s true.
There is a self-help kiosk for sports wagering.
The Santa Ana Star even has a night club and entertainment venue nowadays…
Slots…lots of slots…
The Star Rewards Loyalty program center…
Before I head to the table games, I always look to see if a bank of Ultimate X games are within view of the tables. If you want to know why I wrote about it here: https://roadgambler.com/craps/method-offsetting-1-41-pass-line-vulturing-ultimate-x-playing-craps/
Yes, there was a bank of Ultimate X games within view of the table games…
On my prior visit to the Santa Ana Star, the video poker was awesome, with lots of full pay schedules. I did not see any full pay schedules. This was typical. I guess they have to pay for the renovation somehow…
Now we approach the table games area…
Oh, an important note is that casinos in New Mexico do now allow alcoholic drinks on the gaming floor. When New Mexico passed legislation allowing for class 2 gaming – aka Las Vegas type gaming – the restaurant lobby argued that comped alcohol would hurt existing businesses that relied on alcohol sales. As a compromise, the casino operators capitulated on the issue of alcohol sales.
There is a drink server who will push around a cart with soda and coffee.
Table games were not busy, with only a few tables open. The whole casino was a bit slow.
I played some roulette. Lost this first bet…
On the next spin, bet this stack…
Two spins later, so the above became this…
Which then became this stack…
Which then became a cash out for my exact roulette buy-in because I kept losing the corner bet, which never hit, despite a string of high numbers hitting.
Next, I went to the craps table and played some craps.
The game was $5 minimum, with 5x max odds across the board. None of that Las Vegas 3, 4, 5 stuff.
Interesting note about the Santa Ana Star is that a few years ago, the Star had the only true odds field bet in the United States. The field paid triple on the 2 and triple on the 12, for a 0% house edge. They have since done away with the true odds field bet.
The max bet on that true odds field was $100. I remember playing that field bet for $100. At true odds, it was a wild rollercoaster. Betting one black chip at a time, I was down over $2000 at one point, only to later go on a string of triple payouts, bringing me back to a profit.
The thing about true odds isn’t that you are guaranteed to win, but rather, when the upswing happens (if it happens) the true payout would more likely meet the break-even point than if the winning bets were not true odds.
Also, the Santa Ana Star had a free buy 4 and 10. That is no longer the case, although, the buy bet commission is paid after the win.
At $5 minimum and 5x across the board, it’s still an affordable craps game for the average player.
Interesting fact about the dealers at the Santa Ana Star is that they each keep their own tips. At most casinos, dealers pool all their tips. At the Star, each dealer keeps their won tip, but must contribute 10% to the craps crew. The tip out is necessary because craps usually – at least in New Mexico – earns fewer tips compared to table games.
The effect of the dealers each keeping their own tips is that they’re all super friendly and will constantly root for the players. If you watched the craps video I posted, you’ll see what I mean.
I ended up playing for about 8 hours.
That’s my review and walkthrough of the Santa Ana Star casino.
ROADGAMBLER’S FINAL THOUGHTS
If you live in the area, the Santa Ana Star is worth a visit. However, if you are coming for the deals of yesteryear, those gambling deals are no longer here. The only remand of what remains is the low minimum.
However, even for the relatively low minimum, there are casinos in and around Las Vegas that have lower minimums, such as $2 games at the Joker’s Wild Casino in Henderson, near Las Vegas.
While I love New Mexico, I can’t justify a trip to New Mexico for the sole reason to gamble at any New Mexico casino. It hurts me to say that because in early 2018, I was preaching the awesomeness of New Mexico casinos.
Having said that…I still love New Mexico because it’s a place for the budget minded vacationer. During the winter, the skiing and snowboarding options (yes, in New Mexico) are about 1/5 the price of a Colorado ski resort. While you’re there, stop by a casino. Also, the food is ridiculously cheap and the people are very friendly.
Let me know in the comments below if you have any questions or comments.