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Downs Interests Gave Gov. $70,000

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People connected to the Downs at Albuquerque ponied up at least $70,000 to Gov. Susana Martinez’s campaign while competitor Laguna Development Corp. gave $1,000, according to campaign finance reports filed with the New Mexico Secretary of State’s Office.

People with ownership interest in the Downs also gave more than $50,000 to Martinez’s general election opponent, Democrat Diane Denish, since 2006.

The Downs and Laguna Development, the tribal-owned company that operates Route 66 and Dancing Eagle casinos west of Albuquerque, were the only two businesses that submitted bids to build a new multimillion-dollar casino and sign a 25-year lease with Expo New Mexico, home to the racino and the New Mexico State Fair.

Martinez spokesman Scott Darnell said the lease was put out to a competitive bid and campaign donations had nothing to do with any decisions regarding the Downs.

“The Governor makes decisions based on merit, as is evidenced by her appointment of an independent to the (Public Regulation Commission) and the fact that she has, at times, placed Denish contributors into key roles in her administration,” Darnell said in an email.

After reviewing the proposals, a three-member evaluation committee appointed by Martinez recommended that interim Expo general manager Dan Mourning — also a Martinez appointee — negotiate a contract with the Downs.

The governor-appointed State Fair Commission is set for an up-or-down vote Wednesday on whether to give the Downs, which has leased the 93-acre racino tract at Expo since 1985, another 25-year lease as part of the new deal.

Bill Windham, a Louisiana businessman and part owner of the Downs, gave Martinez’s gubernatorial campaign $15,000.

Windham and fellow Louisianan John S. Turner, who also owns part of the Downs, each owns about 25 percent of SunRay Park, a racino between Bloomfield and Farmington.

SunRay Gaming, which operates SunRay Park, gave Martinez’s campaign $45,000 in three contributions between June 2010 and January 2011.

Traci Moore Wolf, who became vice president of the Downs in May after Windham replaced then-majority owner Paul Blanchard as president, contributed $10,000 to the Martinez campaign.

Wolf also is president of Defined Fitness, a chain of gyms owned in part by Blanchard.

Blanchard still retains some ownership in the Downs, but Pat J. Rogers, an attorney representing the Downs in its negotiations with Mourning, has declined to say what percentage of the racino Blanchard, Windham and Turner currently own.

Prior to Windham becoming president, Blanchard owned 50 percent, and Windham and Turner owned 25 percent each. Turner remains the Downs’ secretary/treasurer.

Windham and Turner also contributed a combined $12,000 to Martinez’s challenger, Democrat Diane Denish, according to the Secretary of State’s office.

Between 2006 and 2010, SunRay Gaming gave Denish’s gubernatorial campaign $28,000, and the Downs at Albuquerque gave Denish $24,000 during that period. Blanchard, a close political ally of former Gov. Bill Richardson, donated $5,000 to the New Mexico Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee last year, according to the Secretary of State’s Office.

The State Fair Commission meets at 9 a.m. Wednesday at the UNM Continuing Education Center Auditorium, 1634 University NE.

The Downs was recently criticized in a Legislative Finance Committee audit for problems blamed in part on poor oversight by Expo officials. Among the criticisms was that the Downs owed Expo hundreds of thousands of dollars in racing revenues and increases in its $2 million annual lease payments that were required when the Legislature approved two one-year lease extensions.

Mourning said the Downs paid $215,000 it owed for race meet revenues last week, and plans to pay $420,000 it owes in lease increases on or before the end of the current lease, which he said expires Jan. 11.

According to a summary of the new lease, the Downs agreed to increase its lease payments from the current $2 million to $2.75 million beginning in 2014. Laguna Development had offered to pay $3 million by that year.

The Downs also has agreed to pay Expo additional revenues based on its “net win,” the amount of money wagered on slot machines less payouts and approved regulatory fees.

The Downs also agreed to: drop nearly $2 million in unspecified claims it says is owed by Expo; pay for all maintenance of the leased property, an expense currently paid by Expo; pay all electric bills on the leased property; pay $300,000 per year in cooperative advertising that cannot be used to “offset” lease payments; sponsor and pay rent for 12 events a year at Tingley Coliseum and four events per year at the horse arena; conduct the 17-day live horse racing during the State Fair; and make a number of specified capital improvements.
— This article appeared on page C1 of the Albuquerque Journal

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