Raton wins last (for 29 years) racetrack casino license

The New Mexico Racing Commission awarded the state’s last non-tribal race track casino license to Racing at Raton, rejecting applications for tracks in Tucumcari and at the Downs at Santa Fe.

Commission Chairman Arnold Rael said the Raton plan best serves the needs of the racing industry. The developers offered to have a 60-day race season and build 1,500 stalls. The track developers also said they will draw from a five-state area.

Rael contrasted that to the Tucumcari project by Coronado Partners, who stated they would draw from primarily Texas and New Mexico.

“Should Texas expand gaming it would impact Coronado much more than Raton,” Rael said.

Commissioner Thomas Fowler said he supported Raton because the management of the state’s other racetracks submitted letters of support for re-starting racing in the northern New Mexico town. That’s important, Fowler said, because the tracks must cooperate closely on issues such as race dates and simulcasting.

Racing at Raton, the partnership that applied for the license, estimated its project would create 300 permanent jobs, more than USD 7 million in annual payroll and about USD 13.3 million in annual tax revenues for the state.

The plan by the Pueblo of Pojoaque to re-open the Downs at Santa Fe was rejected because Commissioner Ray Wilis said it would violate a state statute that requires tracks within 80 miles of each other to have agreements in place to ensure simulcast racing can take place at one while live racing is going on at the other. The Downs at Albuquerque submitted a letter in July stating that there was no such agreement in place and it was not willing to enter into such an agreement, according to Commission staff.

The Commission gave all applicants one final opportunity to speak about their applications. Don Chalmers, who is leading the team to develop a track at Tucumcari, reiterated the merits of his project. Chalmers funded a number of studies, including one by New Mexico State University, to bolster his argument that a track in Tucumcari would provide significant rural economic development.

Commission members asked if he planned a legal challenge should the decision not go Tucumcari’s way, and Chalmers said there would not be a challenge.

Officials with Pueblo of Pojoaque and Racing at Raton declined to make any additional comments to the Commission beyond their earlier presentations.

A fourth application came in to the Racing Commission late last week for a track in Lordsburg.