Even though the state awarded Raton the last gaming license on Tuesday, the Quay County Gaming Authority remains vigilant and hopeful Tucumcari's bid for a "racino" is still a viable option.
"We are down but not out," said Warren Frost, executive director of the authority.
Tucumcari, San Jon and Logan and Coronado Partners, LLC hoped to build a casino and race track near Interstate 40. But the state awarded the license to a Raton group in August 2008.
Tucumcari's racino supporters, however, have remained hopeful Tucumcari may still get the license if Raton falters.
The state Gaming Control Board authorized a casino license for a proposed $50 million horse racing track in the northeastern New Mexico community of Raton at a special meeting Tuesday, according to Greg Saunders, public information officer GCB.
"At that meeting the newest investor in the (Raton) project, Canadian developer Michael Moldenhauer was introduced," Saunders said.
Moldenhauer told the board construction should begin within the next two weeks, Saunders said.
Raton's racetrack is to be built on 225 acres near the former La Mesa Park racetrack, which opened in 1946 and closed in 1992.
"It's nice to finally have the regulatory approvals we need to get started on construction," Moldenhauer said in an Associated Press report. "We've been at this for five years."
Frost said the state's Gaming Control Board has put several conditions in place that Raton must meet to keep its casino license.
"We wish Raton the best of luck," Frost said. "But we do not believe that they will be able to finance the project."
The board approved Raton's casino license and Moldenhauer's suitability.
Four board members voted to approve the casino license and four voted in favor on a "suitability" vote on Moldenhauer, Saunders said.
A fifth board member, Demesia Padilla, abstained on the casino license and voted against Moldenhauer on the finding of suitability, Saunders said.
Padilla explained afterward she believes Moldenhauer is a good businessman but expressed vague concerns about the project's transparency, according to the Associated Press report.
Padilla said she was limited in what she could discuss because of business confidentiality, the report said.
"There have been times I haven't felt fully confident and comfortable with the financial information that has been presented to us," she said. "At this point, suffice it to say that as the CPA on the board, I'm not convinced of all the financial records that have been submitted – and the accuracy," the AP report stated.
Saunders said at the same special meeting investor Marc Correra withdrew from the Raton project.
In a letter from Correra's attorney to the board, it said Correra "has decided to focus on other business opportunities currently available to him," according to a press release from the board.
The board postponed a decision on the Raton license at its meeting on May 20, citing concerns about Correra's $1.2 million contribution to the bid.
Correra had come under scrutiny in recent months after he shared in more than $15 million in fees for helping money management firms secure investment business from New Mexico's permanent and pension funds, according to the AP.
Around the country, fees paid to placement agents have been scrutinized because of an influence-peddling and kickback scandal involving a New York state retirement fund. Correra has not been accused of any wrongdoing.
Moldenhauer said he would make a larger contribution to the Raton project to help compensate for the $1.2 million Correra would have added to the Raton racetrack, according to the AP.
Board Chairman David Norvell told Moldenhauer the project carries great significance to the Raton area and he's responsible for a large measure of the community's economic outlook, the AP report said.
"Do not leave Raton flapping in the northeastern New Mexico breeze," Norvell said to Moldenhauer. "Failure is not an option," the AP reported.
The Raton site will be the sixth and final New Mexico racetrack.
Frost said that the Quay County Gaming Authority will continue to monitor the situation and decisions made by the state's Racing Commission and Gaming Control Board.
"We still have 18 months left on the option for the land," Frost said. "A lot can happen in that time."