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Casino to be built next to Santa Fe Opera

Copyright © 2017 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – Tesuque Pueblo plans to replace its existing casino near the Camel Rock with a new one next door to the Santa Fe Opera.

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Tesuque Pueblo plans to put a casino on vacant land next to the Santa Fe Opera, seen here in the background.The fenced-off site is where a flea market was operated off and on until earlier this year. (Eddie Moore/ Albuquerque Journal)

The pueblo said in an announcement Wednesday the new casino will go on land just north of the opera, where its flea market operated on and off for years until it didn’t return this past summer.

Construction on the casino will start in January and is scheduled for completion by late 2018.

The announcement said the new casino will be the first phase of a development that later will include a hotel and “other resort amenities.”

The pueblo’s Camel Rock Casino, about 8 miles north of the opera along U.S. 84/285, has been open for about two decades.

Santa Fe Opera is famous not only for its nationally revered productions, but also its sweeping vistas of the mountains north of Santa Fe. Opera-goers view productions on the open-air stage looking away from the casino site, but a building on the flea market property almost certainly would be visible from other parts of the opera house and its ancillary facilities.

Charles MacKay, Santa Fe Opera’s general director, said Wednesday he hasn’t seen any official plans for the casino. But he said the pueblo is aware of the opera’s worries about sight lines, acoustics, noise, lighting and other issues.

“The opera does have deep concerns about preserving the unique setting of the opera and all of its attributes,” said MacKay.

He said that while he believes the opera’s fans support economic development of the pueblo, there may be concerns about whether a casino next door will “detract” from the experience, which he says brings people from all over the world to Santa Fe.

Still, MacKay added, “We are really very committed to our relationship with them and working together as their plans evolve.”

John Kubiak, the chairman of the Pueblo of Tesuque Development Corp., said Camel Rock Casino will close once the new casino is ready. There will be a “minimum” amount of lag time between Camel Rock’s closing and the new opening while some of the slot machines are moved over to the new location, he said.

Steve Perich, from Albuquerque architectural firm Dekker/Perich/Sabatini, said the building will be one story and with about 72,000 square feet of space.

The pueblo’s announcement said the casino “will be timeless, inviting and unlike any other casino in New Mexico.”

Kubiak noted the main driver in moving Tesuque’s gaming operations was the Camel Rock building’s age. He said pueblo officials decided it would be more cost-effective to create a new building than fully rehabilitate the current one.

“It’s like an old car; how long do you keep the old one before you decide on a new one?” said Kubiak. He added that Tesuque hopes to continue some kind of “economic activity” in the existing building, but its future purpose hasn’t been determined.

Tesuque’s news release said the new casino will operate 750 slots and various table games. According to Camel Rock’s website, that casino has about 500 slots and video poker machines.

Other reasons Kubiak cited for the move to a new casino were Camel Rock’s location in a “competitive” corridor – with Pojoaque Pueblo’s two casinos nearby and to the north – and its closer proximity to Santa Fe near the opera, about six or seven miles from downtown.

“We want to run a first-class, competitive (facility) and bring a wonderful gaming, entertainment experience,” he said. “We feel this new facility will do that.”

Though 2017 has seen improvement, the state Gaming Control Board’s quarterly reports show Camel Rock’s “net win,” the amount spent by players on slots subtracted by what the casino pays in winnings, was at its lowest in 2016 compared to previous reports dating back to 2002. Nambé Pueblo recently closed its small “boutique” casino at its travel center near Pojoaque.

Earlier this year, the opera’s MacKay went public with a letter under the title “Help Preserve The Opera’s Sight Lines and Views” urging relocation of a 58-foot-high water tank planned on the flea market land as part of a new regional water system.

But MacKay said Wednesday the water tank’s proposed location was closer to the opera and more directly in sight lines from the opera house.

Kubiak said Tesuque leaders directed architects to be “cognizant” of the fact the new casino will be next door to the opera. Tesuque wants to maintain the positive relationship it’s had with the opera in the past, he said.

“We want to be good neighbors with the opera, so we do believe that goal will be met,” he said.

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