New Mexico regulators delay decision on racino license

New Mexico Racing Commission chairman, Ray Willis
New Mexico Racing Commission chairman, Ray Willis

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Bidders vying for a license to build New Mexico's sixth and final horse racetrack and casino will have to wait longer for a final decision after regulators on Thursday put off awarding the coveted license when an applicant sought a preliminary injunction.

The New Mexico Racing Commission voted unanimously to table the decision. Chairman Ray Willis said it was in the best interest of the commission to seek legal advice before going forward.

Attorneys for Hidalgo Downs, a group that wants to build a racino in southwestern New Mexico, filed a petition last week in an effort to put the brakes on the process.

In the documents filed in state district court, attorneys for Hidalgo Downs said a feasibility study looking into a possible sixth racino was flawed and "failed to adequately consider the proposals" of the five applicants.

Hidalgo Downs said it wants another study before the commission issues a license.

The five existing racinos have voiced concerns about adding a sixth venue, saying doing so would hurt their business.

In a Nov. 13 letter to the commission, they described New Mexico's racing industry as "far from healthy and not in need of additional forces creating additional downward pressures."

Tania Maestas, the state's  chief deputy attorney general for civil affairs and operations, said the commission will likely respond to the Hildago Downs petition next week. She said it plans to issue a sixth license but no meetings on the issue are scheduled.

Under state compacts with casino-operating Native American tribes, only six racinos are allowed in New Mexico. The five existing establishments are in Hobbs, Ruidoso, Farmington, Albuquerque and Sunland Park.

There are three proposals for a racino in the eastern New Mexico community of Clovis, including one that would feature a moving grandstand to allow spectators to travel alongside running horses.

Tucumcari, along historic Route 66 in eastern New Mexico, is the location cited in two other proposals. Hidalgo Downs wants to build its racino in Lordsburg, near the Arizona border.

Larry Tombari, part of the group pushing the Tucumcari project, said they were surprised the commission decided to delay the decision.

The possibility of a new venue has generated enthusiasm among investors and tourism officials who crafted proposals for regions that have struggled to attract visitors or build steady economic development.

Racing Commission Executive Director Izzy Trejo said 11 investment groups submitted letters of intent in August, but some failed to submit formal applications by the deadline.

Trejo said the decision to solicit new applications came from recent interest from a handful of entities. He declined to elaborate.


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