Inside the Capitol

Saturday, July 26, 2008

7-30 Expect Decision on Last Racino in August

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- The state Racing Commission has now completed its hearings on the location for New Mexico's sixth racino. The decision on where the last racino for the next 29 years will be located is expected to be made sometime in August.
Nothing has been heard from two other groups that had indicated interest in locating racinos in the far southwestern corner of the state. That leaves Raton, Tucumcari and Santa Fe as competitors for the big prize.
In case you haven't kept up with the latest in gambling lingo, racinos are combination racetrack/casinos. In New Mexico, racetrack mean horse track. In other states, it can mean dog tracks.
When Indian casinos were legalized, nearby racetracks found it difficult, if not impossible, to compete. So some states began allowing them to put in slot machines so they could offer big enough purses to attract good horses.
Sources on the Web are all over the place as to when and where this all started and how many states have legalized racinos. But the term is now in Webster's Dictionary and at least 10 states have racinos, with others considering them, including Texas, according to one report.
New Mexico racinos are aimed at out-of-state money, especially the Texas crowd. Horse tracks in Ruidoso, Hobbs and Sunland Park depend on Texans. The Farmington track draws from the Four Corners states. The Albuquerque track depends on its big population center.
Hobbs, Sunland Park and Farmington are far from the competition of Indian casinos. Ruidoso is not and finds itself in trouble. Santa Fe, facing six casinos within 50 miles, closed 12 years ago, just before racinos were legalized.
Racino applicants, Raton and Tucumcari will look for Texas money also. In addition, Raton can draw from Colorado, Oklahoma and Kansas. Santa Fe would have to depend on its population, plus a large base of tourists. Some Albuquerqueans at the Santa Fe hearing that they would like to come up here for racing.
Raton and Tucumcari have been hit hard economically, and not just from the recent national crisis. Both communities feel it would be a blessing to be awarded a racino.
Both turned out huge crowds for their hearing and put on quite a show. Both are confident that even though they are far from population centers, they can attract a crowd. Both plan hotels near their tracks.
Santa Fe doesn't have any of those problems. Santa Fe Downs was called the best racing facility in the state when it closed. It has been kept up since then and used for various events, so would be ready to go, with the addition of space for slot machines.
And then there is the question about ownership groups. There was talk that the Hobbs racino and the move of the Albuquerque Downs were influenced by big campaign donors to Gov. Bill Richardson.
When it was revealed that Albuquerque auto dealer Don Chalmers is behind the Tucumcari application, tongues started wagging that this was another friend of Bill.
Chalmers may be a friend. He has been appointed by the governor to the Commission on Higher Education and then to the University of New Mexico Board of Regents.
But I can't find any record to indicate that Chalmers has ever donated to anyone but Republican candidates or Republican Party organizations.
Then there is the matter of the Pojoaque Pueblo owning Santa Fe Downs. It is an agreement with New Mexico's Indian gaming tribes that has put a limit on the number of racino licenses that can be awarded. Some ask why the state should give the remaining license to an Indian Pueblo?
Pojoaque says it has the necessary background, experience and finances to run a good operation. And it plans to use its casino mailing list to market the racino.
All three communities have been in the racing business before. Raton had a track from 1946 to 1992. And Tucumcari revealed at its hearing that it was the site of New Mexico's first horse track with pari-mutuel betting in 1938.
WED, 7-30-08

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



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