By Thomas Garcia
QCS Senior Writer
A meeting of the New Mexico Racing Commission scheduled last week has been rescheduled for Dec. 5 and the new agenda doesn’t include discussion of a sixth racing license, according to Commission Director Vince Mares.
Mares said in October that there would be a public input session either Nov. 21 or sometime in January because the commission does not normally meet in December.
Mares said circumstances arose that forced the commission to reschedule its final meeting of the year but declined to comment on the reason for the rescheduling. He also would not comment on why the sixth racing license is not on the Dec. 5 agenda.
Warren Frost, executive director of the Quay County Gaming Commission, said, “We can assure you that we share everyone’s frustration in this matter.”
The Quay County gaming group is campaigning for the sixth license in hopes of locating a racetrack-casino in Tucumcari.
When the racing commission held a public session with horse racing industry officials in August, officials indicated they would also hold a public input session involving current racetrack-casino owners about issuing a sixth racing license before considering re-opening the application process.
The Quay County authority has been waiting since March 2011, when it submitted its application for the sixth license. The Quay County application is currently the only one on file with the racing commission.
Frost said he and many others thought that by this time the commission would have announced the recipient of the sixth license instead of continuing to delay the decision. In fact, he said, he thought the commission would have moved on the license after a May ruling from the New Mexico Supreme Court ended years of litigation by the former holder of the sixth license that had prevented any racing commission licensing activity.
Quay County’s 2011 application was suspended after a judge in Colfax County issued an injunction that ordered the racing commission to stop accepting applications until the former sixth license holder’s two appeals could be heard in the New Mexico Supreme Court. The license holder was Canadian developer Michael Moldenhauer.
Moldenhauer was awarded the license in 2009 and planned to open La Mesa, a racetrack and casino, in Raton. Moldenhauer, however, failed either to open a casino or show he had adequate financing to complete the racetrack by the commission’s May 2010 deadline. The New Mexico Gaming Control Board then voted to cancel Moldenhauer’s gambling license, and the racing commission nullified his racing license.
Moldenhauer sued to reverse these decisions and lost two appeals to the state Supreme Court.
With litigation cleared, the commission elected last July to hold public input sessions involving both the horse-breeding industry and racetrack owners, but the session with current racetrack owners has yet to be scheduled. Several other groups have also expressed interest in acquiring the sixth license.
Paul Stout, a rancher and wind energy entrepreneur, confirmed he represents a client interested in the racino license and has looked at property near Clovis.
Additionally, a second Raton investment group headed by former Raton City Manager Pete Kampfer has also indicated interest in seeking the racino license. A group based in Lordsburg, which lost a previous bid for the license along with Tucumcari in 2008, has indicated it plans to re-apply if the racing commission offers the license.
Hobbs-based Zia Parks, which is owned and operated by Penn National Gaming, voiced its support a sixth license. Mares said Zia Parks wants the license in order to expand its existing gaming operations and add nighttime racing at its horse track. Eric Schippers, senior vice president of public relations for Penn National Gaming, could not be reached for comment.
Frost said Quay County authority officials are doing everything they can to convince the commission to re-open the application process. He said the authority is ready to make its case for the sixth license with data and documentation collected and compiled by the Arrowhead Center at New Mexico State University.
The Arrowhead Center study details the benefits to Tucumcari, Quay County and the state of placing a sixth racetrack-casino in Tucumcari, Frost said. The study was conducted in support of Don Chalmers’ 2009 bid to bring a racino to Tucumcari.
Chalmers,an Albuquerque car dealer, is the principal partner in Coronado Partners LLC, an investment group that first applied for the license that the commission awarded in 2008 to Moldenhauer and Raton.
Quay County communities, Frost said, have contracts to support Chalmers’ application in return for 5 percent of the net profits.
Tucumcari, the host city, will receive 2 percent of net profits, while Logan, San Jon and Quay County will receive 1 percent each.