Quay County Sun - Serving the High Plains

Officials commit to awarding license


December 26, 2018

Ron Warnick

New Mexico Racing Commission Chairman Ray Willis, center, gavels Friday's meeting into session at the commission's boardroom in Albuquerque. With Willis is Commissioner Leonard Blach, left, and Commissioner Jerry Cosper.

ALBUQUERQUE - With a request for an injunction still pending in a courtroom, the New Mexico Racing Commission on Friday refrained, as expected, from awarding a coveted sixth horse-racing license to applicants in Clovis, Tucumcari or Lordsburg.

Commissioners, however, passed a resolution by a 3-1 vote Friday that stated the commission is "committed" to awarding a sixth license "once we get the attorney general's office approval or the judge grants or denies the petition," Commission Chairman Ray Willis said.

"We're frustrated we're unable to move forward," Willis said to the audience of about 25 people - many of them supporters or partners in the proposed horse-racing tracks and casinos - in the commission's boardroom.

Commissioners Leonard Blach, Jerry Cosper and Willis voted to approve the motion.

Commissioner Gayla McCulloch, who was not in the boardroom but attended via teleconference, voted against it, saying she thought awarding a sixth license was not necessary but will continue a good-faith effort on the licensing process if the commission wished to proceed with it.

Commissioner Ken Corazza was absent.

After the motion passed, Willis gaveled the meeting to adjournment, and the audience quickly dispersed.

Warren Frost, a Logan attorney who is one of the principals for Coronado Partners that wants to build an $80 million horsetrack and casino on Tucumcari's east side, said the motion that was passed Friday was good news.

"I'm encouraged they finally said they're going to award the license," he said. "So that's a positive."

On Sunday, Frost filed for a motion to dismiss the Lordsburg petition and asked for an expedited hearing on the case.

Tania Maestas, a chief deputy attorney general advising the commission, said Friday a court date on the injunction still hasn't been scheduled. She advised commission members to not answer questions until the case is resolved.

The commission had hoped to award a license by the end of the year but is running out of time. With the Christmas holiday, a 72-hour notification required for another meeting and no court date in sight, commissioners face a fast-closing window to accomplish their goal.

Governor-elect Michelle Lujan Grisham will take office with the new year, and she can appoint her own racing commissioners, possibly delaying the awarding of a sixth license even more. An email to Lujan Grisham's office, asking her what her plans are for the commission when she takes office, went unanswered.

The commission voted Dec. 6 to table any decision on the horse-racing license until a petition for an injunction against the process is resolved. Applicants for a license in Lordsburg filed the injunction petition Nov. 28, alleging a feasibility study that analyzed the applications was flawed and that Willis had a potential conflict of interest with one of the Clovis applicants.

After approving the agenda and the minutes of a previous meeting, commissioners on Friday went into a side room for a nearly three-hour closed session to discuss license applicants and the litigation.


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