New commissioners weigh New Mexico racino question

May 3, 2019
1 of 2
From left, New Mexico Racing Commissioners Billy Smith, Chairwoman Beverley Bourguet and Vice Chair David "Hossie" Sanchez meet for the first time in Albuquerque, New Mexico, on Friday, May 3, 2019. It will be up to the five-member panel to decide which, if any, of five applicants is awarded the state's sixth and final license for a horse track and casino. The previous commission repeatedly delayed a vote on the matter, citing a legal battle over a contested feasibility study that reviewed the five proposals. (AP Photo/Susan Montoya Bryan)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico’s newly minted panel of horse racing regulators met for the first time Friday and charted out plans for how to tackle the issuance of a lucrative license to operate what would be the state’s sixth and final horse track and casino.

After a short public session, the commission met behind closed doors for more than two hours as lawyers and staff members brought them up to speed on a legal battle and other issues related to the racino license.

Beverly Bourguet, who was named the panel’s chairwoman, said the commissioners will take some time to review the five pending applications as well as a contested feasibility study that looked at the economics behind the various proposals.

That study is the focus of an ongoing case in state district court. Attorneys for some of the companies vying for the license have complained that the study was flawed.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, who took office Jan. 1, also has requested more research and information on the selection process. The previous commission had not fulfilled that request before being replaced by the Democratic governor in recent weeks.

After studying the materials, Bourguet said the commission plans to take up the matter again at its next meeting but it’s unclear how soon a final decision could be made.

“We could continue our review, we could decide to grant, we could decide not to grant. We don’t know exactly what we’re going to do,” she said after the meeting. “We all need to get up to date.”

The racino issue has been festering for months, as the previous commission —under Republican Gov. Susana Martinez — repeatedly delayed making a decision due to the legal challenge.

The company that brought the claim has brokered a proposed settlement that would prevent the commission from considering the recommendations outlined in the study, but the other companies want to intervene in the case. A judge has yet to issue any rulings.

The applications include three separate proposals for a racino in the Clovis area, one in Tucumcari and one in Lordsburg.

Under state compacts with casino-operating tribes, only six racinos are allowed in New Mexico. The five existing establishments are in Hobbs, Ruidoso, Farmington, Albuquerque and Sunland Park.

The existing racinos have voiced concerns about adding a sixth venue, saying doing so would hurt their business.

During Friday’s meeting, Bourguet was named chair and David “Hossie” Sanchez was chosen as the vice chair. Both served previously on the commission. The other members include horse breeders John Buffington and Freda McSwane and Billy Smith, who has been involved in the industry since the 1970s.

Bourguet said each commissioner has different skills and she hopes they can move forward in an innovative way.