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Tucumcari hopes for race track and casino

Tucumcari may soon be gambling on its location as a way to boost tourism.

Ben Kendrick, director of the Tucumcari Economic Development Corp., said officials are in the early planning stages of landing a racetrack and casino in the area.

Few details are available about the specifics of the plan.

In April, Gov. Bill Richardson visited Tucumcari and said during a meeting with residents that he thought officials should look into bringing a racetrack and casino to the city.

Richardson said the city’s proximity to the Texas and Oklahoma borders make it a prime candidate for such a facility.

Tucumcari City Manager Richard Primrose agreed.

“Tucumcari would be an ideal spot for something like this,” Primrose said. “We have Highway 54 that comes in from Texas and Kansas and with I-40 going through we get Texas and Oklahoma visitors. We have such a draw that comes through here.”

There are four racetracks that also have casinos in New Mexico: Downs at Albuquerque, Ruidoso Downs in Ruidoso, Sunland Park near Las Cruces and SunRay Park and Casino in Farmington. Construction on a racetrack/casino in Hobbs is already under way.

Soon after Richardson’s visit, several local investors teamed up with some of the city’s players, including Kendrick, and started talking about how they could get a racetrack and casino in Tucumcari.

They’ve already laid out groundwork to get the racetrack and casino in town. However, there have been no deadlines or completion dates set for the project.

“I would love to be able to give a date,” Kendrick said. “The idea is on the table though and we are pursuing it.”

Those involved in the project have visited sites in New Mexico and other states that have racetracks and casinos.

“The investors and I have taken some trips to tracks in Oklahoma and others have taken trips to sites in New Mexico, attempting to figure out what the economic impact for those communities has been and what it would be here,” Kendrick said.

Kendrick said officials are working on design concepts for the proposed facility. Officials would next need to pick a corporate consultant.

“We would pick another horse racing facility that is similar to the one we want and a consultant would help us with that,” he said. “The consultant would help us get it without having to reinvent the wheel.”

An architect would then be picked and the plan would move forward, Kendrick said.

Kendrick said he would like to see it located in the city, where money from gross receipts taxes would add to the city’s budget.

Kendrick said he expected the price tag for the venture to be in the millions.

However, he did say that money would initially come from the private sector, but imagined there would be some “public assistance.”

“We have no idea how we will fund it yet,” he said. “We will look at some of the grants that are available. We would like to make it a public/private initiative.”

A racetrack and casino in Tucumcari would act as a magnet for gamblers in nearby Texas, where casinos are not permitted.

“Horse tracks by themselves don’t really make money, but with the casino attached to it, we would be able to provide year-round income,” he said.

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