Panel rejects Raton racino deal

Charles D. Brunt

After an often heated exchange with an attorney representing the stalled racino in Raton, the New Mexico Racing Commission unanimously rejected a proposal Thursday that supporters said would have put La Mesa Racetrack and Casino back on track.

Albuquerque attorney Sam Bregman, representing Canadian investor and racino President Michael Moldenhauer, told commissioners that Moldenhauer would, within 60 days, deposit $10 million into a trust to continue construction on the planned $50 million racino, pay off all liens placed against the property and pay the Racing Commission a $20,000 penalty for failing to get the facility built on time.

“The (state) Attorney General’s Office and ourselves have worked together during the last 10 days or so and formulated a proposal that was acceptable to both of us,” Bregman told the five-member commission. “And we ask that you agree with that proposal so that we can get on with building a racetrack in Raton, New Mexico.”

“Yes, I believe we did read in the newspaper where you and our attorney had done that,” replied commission Chairwoman Marty Cope, who later said commissioners were unaware that Assistant Attorneys General Scott Fuqua and Cholla Khoury had been working with Bregman on a proposed settlement until a Journal story appeared Wednesday.

After noting that he had not spoken to the newspaper, Bregman reiterated that Moldenhauer is ready to move forward on the project.

“What I’m asking you today to do is to put whatever personal agendas or anything else you may have with Mr. Moldenhauer aside, and do what’s best for the people of Raton, what’s best for racing,” Bregman said.

Cope said commissioners had reviewed the proposal, but were not inclined to support it.

“We were hoping that there would be something substantial in it,” Cope said. “It’s still the same thing. It’s 60 days out. I mean, it’s the same thing we’ve heard from Day 1.”

To operate in New Mexico, a racino must have a gaming license and a racing license, issued by the Gaming Control Board and the Racing Commission, respectively. Both panels have expressed concerns about Moldenhauer’s failure to deliver on promises to get the facility built and conduct live race meets.

Bregman, flanked by several Raton residents, was incensed at the commission’s chilly reception to the proposed settlement.

“This is not regulation by the Racing Commission; this is putting up obstacles to allow a racetrack to be built in Raton,” Bregman charged. “I don’t know what the hidden agendas are. I don’t know what personal vendettas are, but this is getting ridiculous.

“He’s willing to put $10 million in the bank, and you guys say no? That’s crazy,” he said.

Cope denied that anyone on the commission had hidden agendas or vendettas.