By Thomas Garcia
QCS Senior Writer
Albuquerque-based Laguna Development Corporation, owned by the Pueblo of Laguna, announced Monday it will host a multi-purpose event June 27 to share its idea and prospects of bringing a “racino” – a combination horse race track and gambling casino – to Clovis with city and county government officials, business owners and other interested parties from Curry and Roosevelt County.
“This is in no way an official announcement declaring LDC’s intentions regarding the sixth license,” said Skip Sayre, LDC’s chief of sales and marketing.
Sayre said any official actions taken by LDC in vying for the final license hinges on the New Mexico Racing Commission re-opening the Request for Proposal (RFP) for bidding.
Sayre said LDC has placed options on parcels of land in Curry County near CCC and the Clovis Civic Center as well as obtained office space in Clovis. Although LDC would not exercise any options on the land or occupy the office space until the racing commission moves forward in its position.
Warren Frost, a Logan attorney who also chairs the Quay County Gaming Authority, said he is not surprised about LDC’s recent announcement. He said the authority has known for several months about Laguna’s intention for Clovis. “In fact, we anticipate there will be one-to-two more groups trying to get the license for Clovis,” Frost added.
Frost said once the application process is re-opened, an update will be made to the authority’s existing and it is currently the sole application on file for the license with the racing commission.
“The authority is ready to demonstrate that Tucumcari is a much better location than Clovis or anywhere else in the state for the sixth license,” Frost said. “We believe we still have an excellent chance of getting a race track here in Tucumcari.”
Sayre said the event planned on June 27 at the Route 66 Casino (an LDC property) is to help Clovis and Portales become familiar with the corporation. He said it is the first of several events that have been planned, aimed to help community members understand how the cooperation operates.
“LDC is very proud of the hard work and success it has had in the gaming/casino industry in New Mexico,” Sayre said. “There is no better way to explain what LDC does than for people to experience first hand the operations of one of the corporation’s successful properties.”
Sayre said for several weeks LDC officials have been reaching out to various members of the community to become familiar with the region’s demographics, resources and needs and concerns of the residents. He said research has been conducted to gauge public opinion, perceptions and reception to horse racing, gambling and the idea of opening a race track and casino in Clovis.
“These events are just a way for everyone to become aquatinted,” Sayre said.
Sayre said while LDC is owned by the Pueblo of Laguna, he wanted to clarify that should a racino be opened in Clovis, it would not operate as a sovereign business.
He said the racino would operate as a independent entity, managed by LDC, separate from the Pueblo’s sovereignty. This would mean the racino would stand as its own entity and would be taxed and governed by local and state regulations.
LDC manages several businesses including casinos, travel centers and restaurants in the Albuquerque area.
This newest interest by LDC to open a casino in Clovis comes in the wake of the two-year mark since the Racing Commission halted applications and proceedings related to the sixth racing license.
The Racing Commission had considered restarting the application process following a state Court of Appeals decision on March 21, 2014 upholding the commission’s decision to yank the license once held by La Mesa Racino. The La Mesa development was planned to open in Raton by Canadian developer Michael Moldenhauer.
La Mesa was originally awarded the license in 2007 over Coronado Partners LLC, a partnership headed by the late Don Chalmers, an Albuquerque-area businessman who planned to build a complex that would include a racetrack, casino and hotel on property in Tucumcari.
The current plan for Coronado Park racino calls for a facility with up to 600 slot machines and a one-mile dirt racetrack. The racing season is expected to include 55 days of live racing, with 60 percent of the races to involve thoroughbreds and 40 percent quarter horses.
La Mesa had tied the license up in litigation beginning in 2011, though in 2013 Coronado Partners LLC was the only entity to submit an updated application prior to La Mesa filing its final appeal.
The decision by Court of Appeals Judge Michael D. Bustamante upheld the commission’s decision, ruling there was no appealable final order and the court declined to review La Mesa’s arguments saying they were moot.
However even though the legal path was now clear for the racing commission to re-open the application process it instead decided to hold off on that course of action. Instead the commission voted to hear views from current racino owners and the state’s horse racing industry in public hearings.
The commission heard from members of the horse racing industry on July 18, 2013. Officials with Hobbs-based Zia Parks, which is owned and operated by Penn National Gaming, voiced their support the of a sixth license. Along with Zia Parks the New Mexico Horseman Association and Jockeys’ Guild supported issuing of another license.
Then-Ruidoso Downs President Bruce Rimbo has expressed doubts the state’s horse racing industry could produce enough racing stock to supply six racetracks. Horse racing industry representatives, however, said they were confident they would be able to produce an adequate number of quarter horses and thoroughbreds to support another racino.
Since that time, the racing commission has not placed the sixth racino license on the agenda for discussion or vote. Chalmers, the then principal partner in Coronado Partners LLC, died in April 2014 after a two-year bout with cancer.
Frost said Chalmers’ family is still very interested in developing the property. He said the potential benefits to building a racino in Tucumcari remain as bright as they were in 2011, when a study was conducted by Dr. Christopher Erickson, an economist with New Mexico State University’s Arrowhead Center.
According to the Arrowhead Center’s study, the benefits to the state and Quay County include:
• Total gross receipts from operations generated directly and indirectly for Coronado Park are expected to be $79 million in the first year of operation, increasing to $89 million by the fifth year; earnings generated directly and indirectly from operations start at $26 million in the first year and increase to $31 million by the fifth year.
•The increased revenue to the state from gaming at Coronado Park, net of the possible impact of reduced revenue to other gaming sites within the state, is expected to increase from about $45 million in the first year to about $51.3 million in the fifth year.
• The projected loss of gaming revenue to other state racinos is expected to total $10.6 million in the first year and about $12 million in the fifth year.
• Employment generated directly and indirectly from operations of the racetrack and casino are expected to be 1,284 jobs in the first year, increasing to 1,458 jobs in the fifth year.