The New Mexico Racing Commission visits Tucumcari on Thursday to hear a proposal for building a racetrack and casino.
Albuquerque car dealer Don Chalmers heads a group of investors who hope to bring hundreds of jobs and millions of Texas money to the economically depressed city along the Mother Road.
The meeting is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. at the Tucumcari Convention Center. Organizers said they expect 800 or more area residents to attend.
The commission is considering proposals for a “racino” to be built in Raton, Santa Fe or Tucumcari. It’s expected to announce its decision in 30 to 60 days, according to Julian Luna, the NMRC’s agency director.
New racetrack/casinos typically are built in 18 months to two years, Luna said.
“I am very excited to bring this project to Quay County,” Chalmers said in a news release outlining his plans for Coronado Park, which would be built on the eastern edge of Tucumcari, clearly visible to traffic along Interstate 40 and old Route 66.
“I really feel like we have a chance,” said Carole Keith, president of the Tucumcari/Quay County Chamber of Commerce. “I think a lot is in our favor. It’s not going to take money out of the state, it’s going to bring in money from Texas.”
Amarillo – barely 100 miles east of Tucumcari – is the primary target for investors who say a new race track in Raton or Santa Fe would only shuffle gambling dollars around the state. Tucumcari, they claim, would bring new money into New Mexico – tens of millions in new money each year.
Promoters also say Coronado Park would employ 300 full-time and 100 part-time workers who would share a $9 million annual payroll. The average wage would be around $28,000 – a welcome respite from economic woes that have reduced the town’s population from 8,500 to 5,500 since Route 66 bowed to the interstate highway system.
But not everyone in Quay County is thrilled with the prospect of becoming a tourist attraction for gamblers.
A letter to the editor in Saturday’s Quay County Sun newspaper, from a Baptist minister, charges “gambling is an affront to God,” and “seeks to accumulate wealth for the few at the expense of the many.”
“Will this really be a driver to economic recovery,” Rev. David McAfee asks in his letter. “My concern is who is at the wheel and what direction will we be taken?”
McAfee said he was also concerned that taxpayers’ dollars were being spent when city workers were out hanging banners.
Mayor Antonio Apodaca said he thought the racino would be offering more employment opportunties more economic development opportunities. For example, “We are losing our precious resources. Our children are leaving for higher education, or for empoyment opportunities. We’d like more of them to come to stay, not just to visit,” Apodaca said.
QCS Staff contributed to this report.