New Mexico regulators to provide more info on racino process

New Mexico Racing Commission Chairman Ray Willis
New Mexico Racing Commission Chairman Ray Willis

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico horse racing regulators said Thursday they will comply with a request by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham for more information regarding the selection process for the state's sixth and final license for a racetrack and casino and the five applicants who are in the running.
The Democratic governor, who took office Jan. 1, made the request for additional research in a letter sent Wednesday to the commission.
Commission Chairman Ray Willis told the crowd gathered for Thursday's meeting in Albuquerque that the panel hired a company last year to conduct an independent review and comparison of the applicants. That work was completed in November and has been used in the commission's ongoing deliberations.
To satisfy the governor's request, Willis said the study will be made public and posted on the commission's website.
"The commission remains committed to issuing a sixth racing license and remains committed to making decisions that are in the best interest of the racing industry," Willis said.
He also said the commission is awaiting resolution of a petition filed in district court by one of the companies vying for the license. That company, Hidalgo Downs, is seeking a temporary injunction, saying the commission hasn't done enough to study the issue.
Commissioners first voiced frustration in December after being forced to delay a final decision on the license because of the petition. The Democratic-controlled state attorney general's office had threatened to withdraw as legal counsel on the licensing process if the commission didn't put off picking a winner until the petition had been resolved.
A hearing has yet to be scheduled on the matter, but other groups involved in the selection process have intervened in the case.
Three groups have made separate proposals to build a racino in the Clovis area. There also are proposals for racinos in Tucumcari and the one in Lordsburg proposed by Hidalgo Downs.
Hidalgo Downs filed its petition after a previous feasibility study found that a racino in the southwestern corner of the state would produce significantly less revenues and taxes than the projects proposed for Clovis and Tucumcari.
The state's 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."
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.
A review of campaign finance records by the Santa Fe New Mexican showed New Mexico's five racinos and their owners contributed at least $60,000 in political donations to Lujan Grisham's campaign.
The newspaper also found that her campaign received more than $25,000 in donations from individuals and companies with ties to one of groups seeking the final license. A company linked to another group also vying for the license made a donation of more than $5,000 late in the campaign.


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