Inside the Capitol

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

7-18 State's Casinos and Racinos Have Banner Year

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- New Mexico's casinos and racinos had their best year in 2007, despite the nation's economic downturn and the increased cost of gasoline.
Indian casinos had a 7.5 percent increase in revenue, while horse track/casino operations showed a 2.7 percent increase. Nationally, racinos are the fastest-growing segment of the gambling industry and the word "racino" has been added to Webster's Dictionary.
Further evidence of the rosy outlook is the number of new and expanded casinos going up. The Navajo Nation will get into the gambling business with a casino east of Gallup, followed by another west of Farmington. Permission also has been give to To'hajiilee, just west of Albuquerque, to pursue its own casino plans.
In August Pojoaque Pueblo will open the largest resort hotel in the state, along with a new casino and a convention center expected to take a large share of business away from downtown Santa Fe's new community convention center which will open sometime. Pojoaque and Laguna pueblos both operate three casinos now.
Santa Ana Pueblo, just west of Bernalillo and north of rapidly expanding Rio Rancho, has multimillion dollar plans to expand its casino, restaurant and commercial activities following accolades from national magazines and the return of a top-level golf tournament.
Isleta Pueblo is currently running ads for its new hotel and casino just south of the Albuquerque Sunport. The Fort Sill, OK, Apaches; the Tigua Pueblo of Ysleta, TX, and Jemez Pueblo have been trying to locate off-reservation casinos in the Las Cruces and Deming areas.
The only bummer in casino news is the Mescalero Apache Tribe's problems with a mountain of debt incurred in the rebuilding of its Inn of the Mountain Gods luxury resort hotel and casino west of Ruidoso. The problem is not that business has slowed down, it's the principle and interest payments that are eating them up.
Santa Ana Pueblo experienced the same difficulty in 2002 following its major building program. Sandoval County stepped in to help with refinancing and the problem was solved. Relations between the Mescaleros and Lincoln County never have been as positive so the tribe is trying to solve its problems with a change in leadership of the operation.
The outlook for New Mexico's racinos appears almost as bright as for Indian casinos, despite having to pay 26 percent of their profits to the sate as opposed to the 8 percent paid by Indian casinos.
But the horse tracks are happy to have any additional revenue to offset losses they have been experiencing on the horses since Indian casinos were legalized. The racetrack/casinos are the only legal gambling in New Mexico outside Indian reservations.
The Indian gaming agreements between the state and tribes specify that only six racinos will operate in New Mexico for the next 30 years. That leaves room for one more racino and the New Mexico Racing Commission is reviewing as many as five proposals to be that sixth racino.
Hearings are being conducted this month in Raton on July 10, Pojoaque on July 22 and Tucumcari on July 23. Two more groups of investors may propose racinos in the Deming-Lordsburg area.
Two of the current five casinos have experienced some difficulties. The Downs at Albuquerque, which operates at the New Mexico State Fair, now called Expo New Mexico, has complained that its quarters are too small to even accommodate all of the 750 slot machines allowed racinos.
Recently the state Racing Commission approved a relocation to Moriarty, which plans a $65 million track, casino, hotel, restaurant, truck stop and entertainment space on King ranch property.
Now Ruidoso Downs owner R.D. Hubbard wants to move his track to Las Cruces because of too much competition from the Mescalero tribal casinos. County officials have said they want to do everything they can to keep the racino because the area would be devastated by the loss.
Maybe they should get in touch with the good folks in Sandoval County.

FRI, 7-18-08

JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)



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