Inside the Capitol

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Santa Fe Downs Deal Not Dead

SANTA FE – The media tells us the plan for Pojoaque Pueblo to reopen Santa Fe Downs is dead. But my sources warn not to jump to conclusions. It’s too good a deal for too many people to declare it dead.
Pojoaque Pueblo has the only casino that has not reached agreement with Attorney General Patricia Madrid for payment of money owed the state under past and present revenue-sharing agreements. Madrid calculates that Pojoaque owes about $25 million. The two have been in negotiations for many months trying to reach agreement.
Pojoaque would like to pay its debt, first by getting Madrid to cut the amount owed by much more than half. Then it wants a license to reopen the horse track south of Santa Fe that it bought and closed in the late ‘90s. The pueblo wouldn’t make anything from the horses, but the slot machines that race tracks now are allowed would provide the revenue to pay the state whatever settlement figure is agreed upon.
Madrid’s office has been willing to negotiate along those lines, but the parties still are apart on the figures. The pueblo wants to pay no money down on the $9 million settlement it is proposing. Instead, it would use some of the profits from its slot machines once the track opens, which couldn’t happen sooner than racing season next year and maybe not that quickly.
Madrid wants more than that since payments will be delayed and no interest will be paid on the settlement amount. And besides, she notes, the state would be providing the pueblo the revenue stream from which it would be making those payments. And it would be necessary for the state Racing Commission to grant Pojoaque a license to open the track.
On July 8, Pojoaque’s new governor, George Rivera, sent Madrid a letter breaking off the talks and accusing her everything short of genocide in her dealings with the pueblo. But anyone familiar with negotiations knows that breaking off talks does not necessarily end negotiations.
Madrid has a cool head and won’t be bothered by Rivera’s diatribe. She is ready to resume negotiations when Rivera cools off. And maybe Rivera isn’t as hot under the collar as he sounds.
As a new governor taking over from the bombastic Jake Viarreal, the most aggressive Indian official in the state, Rivera may have figured he needed to show he is no pushover either. His explosive comments may have been more for his constituents than for Madrid. Rivera also has hinted that he might be willing to negotiate directly with Madrid, instead of her lieutenants. That also enhances Rivera’s stature.
If matters can be settled, Pojoaque stands to benefit from being out of litigation. The pueblo’s financial rating is sure to improve without a $25 million suit hanging over its head. It also will have a new revenue generator at the racetrack casino.
Pojoaque bought the failing track in 1996, reportedly to eliminate some competition for the gambling dollar. After a year it closed the track, but that was before the Legislature granted slot machines to horse tracks to save them from financial ruin. Now, there is incentive to reopen the property that has been idle for seven years.
Settling the lawsuit and reopening the track also would benefit the state. The settlement would put money into its cash-strapped coffers. The 25 percent tax on the track’s slot machines would bring in millions yearly. Purses for horse owners would be about $5 million richer each year. A $7 million remodel would help the economy, as well as provide many jobs at the facility.
And if reopening the track becomes an impossibility, another option is for the pueblo to turn the track over to the state in return for getting its debt erased. That information comes from political blogger Joe Monahan, who says he got it from northern New Mexico Native American sources.


Post a Comment

<< Home