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Raton officials make case for a sixth racino

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Raton Mayor Bobby LeDoux and that city’s head of economic development offered the only comments Wednesday on whether the state needs a sixth racino, taking just seven minutes to address the New Mexico Gaming Control Board.

Board chairman Jeff Landers opened discussion on the topic, saying, “I thought it would be good for us to take some initial comment from folks about whether that sixth gaming license should be issued.”

But only LeDoux and Raton economic developer Chris Reed took up the offer.

“I just want to make a plea on behalf of the city of Raton,” LeDoux said. “I think that the northern part of the state is often neglected in a lot of areas, and it just seems to me that it would make the most sense to put another racino in northern New Mexico.”

LeDoux said he’s often asked by residents of Colorado, Texas and Oklahoma when Raton, which was home to a racetrack for almost 50 years, will get a racino.

“We are very, very certain that, if given the opportunity, we can assist in putting in a viable application that will meet the needs of the state and the board,” LeDoux said.

LeDoux has said a group of investors is interested in backing a racino in Raton, but he has declined to identify any of them.

Reed presented the board with data showing that, within a 225-mile radius of Raton, there is a larger population, household count and income level in comparison to three other towns with existing racinos – Farmington, Ruidoso and Hobbs.

Raton backed a bid by Canadian developer Michael Moldenhauer to build a racino there, but Moldenhauer failed to complete the facility on time and lost both his racing license and his gaming license. That issue was tied up in court until earlier this summer.

The New Mexico Racing Commission, which issues licenses to conduct live horse racing, and the Gaming Control Board, which issues licenses to conduct gaming at licensed tracks, are now considering whether to re-open the application process for the sixth racino license.

At a Racing Commission meeting last month, the New Mexico Horsemen’s Association, the Jockey Guild and Zia Park in Hobbs said they support a sixth racino. The state’s other four racinos – Ruidoso Downs, the Downs at Albuquerque, Sunland Park and SunRay Park near Farmington – said they do not.

State revenue-sharing compacts with tribally owned casinos limits the number of racinos in the state to six until the year 2037.

Raton was home to La Mesa Park from 1946 to 1992, but the track closed five years before the state Legislature voted to allow racetrack’s to have slot machines – a move credited with saving the state’s struggling horse racing industry.