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Downs Casino Lags

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Construction of a new 65,000-square-foot casino for the Downs at Albuquerque is about a month behind schedule, but general manager Darren White said this week that the owners are planning to open it “early in the second quarter” of next year.

Officials at Expo New Mexico, the state-owned fairgrounds that leases land to the racino, said the construction will have an impact on the upcoming New Mexico State Fair, which will take place Sept. 12-23 at the fairgrounds.

Expo general manager Dan Mourning said the fair will have about 300 fewer parking spaces this year and that Gate 9, about 100 feet north of Central on Louisiana, will be closed. Parking at Expo will be free during the fair this year, Mourning said, and some of the lost parking will be offset by having employees and some rodeo competitors park at reserved spaces near the fairgrounds.

Horsemen eager to compete for larger purses fed by the new casino’s slot-machine profits have been questioning the apparent lack of construction activity ever since the governor-appointed State Fair Commission approved a controversial new 25-year lease for the Downs in January. The lease also allows the Downs to build a new multimillion-dollar casino on the state-owned Expo New Mexico fairgrounds.


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The Downs is owned by Paul Blanchard of Albuquerque, Bill Windham of Bossier City, La., and John S. Turner of Shreveport, La.

As of this week, the parking lot at the northwest corner of the fairgrounds has been torn up, and a compacted mound of dirt upon which the $15 million to $20 million casino will sit is nearing completion.

White, a former Bernalillo County sheriff and unsuccessful GOP congressional candidate, raised eyebrows earlier this year when he was named security consultant, then construction manager, then general manager of the racino.

On Wednesday, White said problems with the compacted mound of dirt, known as the pad, had set the project back “two or three weeks.”

“We had a fairly significant construction delay because of some soil issues,” White said.

When engineers tested the soil beneath the pad — completed earlier this month by Guzman Construction Solutions — they found a couple of areas that were not compacted deeply enough to meet specifications, White said.

The 7-foot-high pad will put the casino at about the same elevation as the 1-mile oval racetrack.

The project’s general contractor, Bradbury Stamm, re-did the pad, White said, and raised it about a foot.

With the pad completed, contractors can begin pouring concrete footings and the casino’s foundation, he said.
— This article appeared on page C1 of the Albuquerque Journal