Inside the Capitol

Friday, June 08, 2007

Moriarty Racino Makes Sense


Syndicated Columnist

      SANTA FE -- Should the Downs at Albuquerque be allowed to move its horse track and casino to Moriarty? Downs president Paul Blanchard has asked to move his racing dates to the other side of the Sandias in 2009.

      It's not a bad idea, but 2009 seems a trifle optimistic considering the hurdles Blanchard faces. The racing commission has hired a lawyer to deal strictly with the transfer request. He seems to be in no hurry to expedite the process, but then, why should he be?

      Blanchard's unusual request creates all sorts of problems. It is more than just a renewal request, as Blanchard insists. And it is less than a request for a new license, which the racing panel's new lawyer is contending.

      It is a transfer request. And that's not covered by law, which means either the courts will have to decide or the law will need to be changed in the 2008 Legislature. The latter likely will be quicker.

      Then there are the Indian gaming compacts that have just been signed. They limit additional racino licenses to one more. Would this be it? If so, it will be in competition with Santa Fe, Raton and maybe Tucumcari.

      Regardless of the answer to that question, the compacts require the racing commission "to solicit and consider the views" of the gambling tribes.

   Blanchard says the tribal casinos will have no problem because the move puts the Downs casino farther from them. But the tribal casinos haven't spoken yet and they are sure to want to leverage their limited power all they possibly can.

   Also in the picture are the neighbors, both in Albuquerque and Moriarty. Last year the neighbors kept Blanchard from building a larger casino at a busy corner of the fairgrounds at  Central and Louisiana. That's when Blanchard started looking at the east side of the Sandias.

   Now that he wants to move, those same neighbors are threatening to sue if he does. They want to keep things the way they are, with the casino in cramped quarters at the racetrack with less than half as many slot machines as are allowed.

   Most of the business community in Moriarty like the idea of the track and casino, along with a hotel, RV park, truck stop, barns, indoor equestrian center, outdoor show ring, stables, an advanced veterinary clinic, steakhouse, food court and bars.

   Many neighbors like the idea because of the 400 jobs, it is projected to provide. But a representative of 56 families who live near the site told the May racing panel meeting that local leaders haven't addressed the impact on the community, especially water needs.

   Actually Torrance County commissioners, along with representatives of Moriarty, Edgewood and southern Santa Fe County have been participating in planning sessions ever since Blanchard's May 11 announcement.

   And as far as water is concerned, Torrance County has a huge basin of underground brackish water that communities from Albuquerque to Espanola have been eyeing for several years. Area ranchers and farmers have not been interested in giving it up even though they don't need it.

   This could be a perfect use for some of that water. Desalination is now economically feasible. Reports indicate that New Mexico is the only state without a single desalination plant.

   The complaining neighbors do have a point, however. When the Racing Commission approved the racino at Hobbs, Gov. Bill Richardson said he wanted three years to look at its total effects on the surrounding area before approving any further expansion. That study has not been completed.

   Blanchard wants to set up his operation on 500 acres just off Interstate 40 and state Highway 41, the road to Santa Fe. The property is owned by the King family, which has unsuccessfully tried to develop it for residential purposes.

   Torrance County already is horse country. It makes some sense to have a track there. When the state fairgrounds originally was developed it was well east of Albuquerque. This move would just put the track a little farther east.

FRI, 6-16-07


JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505

(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)



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