Inside the Capitol

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Price of Poker Going Up

SANTA FE The price of poker is going up in southern New Mexico as a racetrack casino owner and a wannabe Indian casino owner keep raising the stakes.
Santa Fe art dealer and real estate tycoon Gerald Peters has partnered with Jemez Pueblo to propose an off-reservation casino near Anthony, on the Texas border. That has not set well with Stan Fulton, owner of Sunland Park Racetrack and Casino, 20 miles down the road, near both the Texas and Mexican borders.
Fulton, who already has given millions to the Gadsden School District and New Mexico State University, says he will cancel a provision in his will bequeathing half ownership and half the net profit from his gaming operation to NMSU if an Indian casino is approved within 50 miles from his racetrack and casino.
The off-reservation casino must be approved by the U.S. Interior Department based on its positive impact upon the pueblo and its lack of negative impact on the surrounding community. If approved, the governor must sign a gaming compact with the pueblo and the county commission must approve the zoning.
The federal government has said nothing so far, but we do know it has approved at least three off-reservation casinos in other states during the sixteen years since the Indian Gaming Regulation Act passed and that approval sometimes takes as long as five years.
Gov. Bill Richardson says the state already has enough gambling and that the issue isn’t even on his radar screen, but he does venture that Fulton’s casino condition is “unseemly.” In fact, he says, “Pressure works against those who try to assert it against me.”
Peters says Fulton’s claim that an Indian casino will cut his business in half is totally wrong, according to a study he commissioned. He challenged Fulton to a $1 million bet that Fulton won’t lose half his revenues by three years after the competition starts.
Fulton says the $1 million is chickenfeed. He says he’ll lose $100 million in the long run. “Let Mr. Peters put up at least $100 million,” says Fulton.
Peters already has begun seeking county commission approval. During his presentation, Peters pledged to provide health care for his employees for which he would pay at least half the cost.
Dona Ana County Commissioner Gilbert Apodaca responded that since the county is responsible for indigent health care, he would like to see Peters pay the full cost. Without batting an eye, Peters answered, “You’ve got a deal.”
Peters and Jemez Pueblo Gov. Paul Chinana have both been supportive of Fulton’s generosity to the local community. Peters notes that he too has a track record of charitable giving and will continue that practice. It will demonstrate, he says, what gaming competition can do for a community.
Meanwhile both sides try to line up community support in preparation for influencing Interior Secretary Gale Norton. Peters has received the endorsement of the Anthony-Berino Economic Development Corp., a private group of local business people, while Fulton has lined up an impressive group that calls itself the Committee to Protect Dona Ana County.
The group includes seven of the area’s legislators, several horse breeders and Bob Gallagher, president of the NMSU Board of Regents. Joe Monahan, a public relations pro, has been hired as spokesman for the group.
Fulton recently has announced further gifts, in the millions, for both Gadsden and NMSU. And don’t be surprised to see Peters continue to sweeten the pot. One thing these guys don’t lack is money, and plenty of it, from outside the gaming industry.
But within the gaming industry, the amount of money is obscene and it is leading to a very high-stakes game, in which the participants can throw around million-dollar bets and donations with abandon.
NMSU says its gift could net it at least $10 million a year as a partner in a gambling operation. Pretty good, if you can stomach the thought.


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