Tucumcari looks at races, casino

David Arkin

Tucumcari could receive a huge economic boost if a plan to bring a race track and casino to the city moves forward.

According to Ben Kendrick, director of the Tucumcari Economic Development Corp., officials are in the early planning stages of landing a race track and casino in the area. However, there are very few details available about the specifics of the plan. In April, Gov. Bill Richardson visited Tucumcari and said during a meeting with residents that he thought officials should look into bringing a race track and casino to the city.

Richardson said the city’s proximity to the Texas and Oklahoma borders makes it a prime candidate for such a facility. Tucumcari city manager Richard Primrose agreed.
“Tucumcari would be an ideal spot for something like this,” Primrose said. “We have Highway 54 that comes in from Texas and Kansas and with I-40 going through we get Texas and Oklahoma visitors. We have such a draw that comes through here.” There are four race tracks that at this time have casinos in New Mexico:They are: Downs at Albuquerque, Ruidoso Downs, Sunland Park, SunRay Park and Casino.

Soon after Richardson’s visit several local investors teamed up with some of the city’s players, including Kendrick, and started talking about how they could get a race track and casino in the community. They’ve already laid out groundwork to get the race track and casino in town. However, there have been no deadlines or completion dates set for the project. “I would love to be able to give a date,” Kendrick said. “The idea is on the table though and we are pursuing it.”

Those involved in the project have visited sites in New Mexico and other states that have race tracks and casinos.
“The investors and I have taken some trips to tracks in Oklahoma and others have taken trips to sites in New Mexico, attempting to figure out what the economic impact for those communities has been and what it would be here,” Kendrick said. Kendrick said officials are currently working on design concepts for the proposed facility. Officials would next need to pick a corporate consultant. “We would pick another horse racing facility that is similar to the one we want and a consultant would help us with that,” he said. “The consultant would help us get it without having to reinvent the wheel.”

An architect would then be picked and the plan would move forward, Kendrick said.Kendrick said he would like to see it located in the city. “We would get gross receipts tax money if it’s in the city,” he said. But the funding for the project is up in the air. Kendrick said he didn’t know how much the facility would cost. He expected the price tag to be in the millions.
However, he did say that money would initially come from the private sector, but imagined there would be some “public assistance.”

“We have no idea how we will fund it yet,” he said. “We will look at some of the grants that are available. We would like to make it a public/private initiative.” Bringing a facility that has both a race track and casino would be a big money-maker for the city, Kendrick said. “We would be able to pull in all of the business from Texas because they can’t have casinos there,” he said. “Horse tracks by themselves don’t really make money, but with the casino attached to it, we would be able to provide year-round income.”
He also said there would be a benefit in the facility for businesses in town.

“It would enhance our hotels, restaurants and gas stations,” he said. “People would stay in town longer. Everything in-between would benefit. This is a good idea. It would be a big bolster for Route 66. Primrose said he also thinks that a race track and casino would be a big advantage for the city.
“I know the economic development director is looking at all avenues and trying to change the trends around Tucumcari,” he said. “He’s looking at everything and what I always tell him is that he’s fishing with trout lines and there’s lots of hooks out there. He’s trying to see if we can increase the industry and business here and a race track and casino would be a major shot in the arm for us.”