Raton gets racino nod

Freedom New Mexico Correspondent

Though quite a bit of money was at stake in their bid to land a racetrack in eastern New Mexico, Tucumcari representatives were sportsmanlike Monday after getting the bad news.

The New Mexico Racing Commission voted down the proposal from Coronado Park Partners, the group led by Albuquerque businessman Don Chalmers that hoped to put a racino — racetrack combined with casino — in Tucumcari. Instead, the Commission unanimously chose Raton’s bid. Racing will likely begin in 2010.

The Pueblo of Pojoaque Development in Santa Fe was also in the running.

“I couldn’t say (what the deciding factors were). I wasn’t back there so I just don’t know. I mean some of the reasons they gave — race days, stalls — we had told them we were willing to go more if the demand was there,” said Chalmers just after the decision was reached. “But they (the Raton representatives) went through the same process and they got the votes.”

Commissioners heard one last five-minute presentation from Chalmers while representatives from Raton and Pojoaque declined their opportunity to speak once more. After Chalmers spoke, the Commission went into executive session for approximately 50 minutes before reconvening.

In his final comments before the vote was taken, Commission Chair Arnold Rael cited Raton’s proposal to have approximately 500 more stalls at the site. Commissioner Larry Delgado said he favored Raton’s proposed summer season because it “supported the racing industry better than the spring meet (proposed by the Coronado group).”

New Mexico’s already existing racetracks sent a letter of support for Raton to the Commission. Chalmers said he didn’t know if that was a critical reason why his group was bypassed.

“It might have been. If it was, I wouldn’t agree with that but I’m not a commissioner,” he said.

“We thought the main difference is that Colorado already had gaming, in Cripple Creek for instance, and Texas did not,” said Warren Frost, president of the Quay County Gaming Authority.

“We’re very disappointed. We’ve spent the last two years working hard on it. We demonstrated that Tucumcari would bring twice as much revenue to the state as Raton,” Frost said. “Obviously, the Commission didn’t agree with us but congratulations go out to Raton. I can’t say enough however about Don Chalmers and the personal money he spent and the time. I can’t thank him enough for the exceptional work he did for Tucumcari.”

State Sen. Clint Harden, who lives in Clovis, was at the meeting with politically mandated divided loyalties. Tucumcari and Raton are in Harden’s district.

“This is like a parent at Christmas. You’ve got two kids and both want a pony, but there’s only one and somebody’s gonna be happy and someone’s going to be disappointed,” Harden said. “I think Tucumcari, Curry County and the whole area did a fabulous job of making this presentation.”

Asked if any further legal maneuvering was possible to reverse the final decision, Frost had minimal hope.

“There is a process. You can appeal this to the district court, but I’m not sure if Mr. Chalmers would be willing to do that at this point,” said Frost, who is also an attorney.

Raton was home to the state’s first racetrack, La Mesa Park, which opened in 1946 and closed in 1992.