Serving Clovis, Portales and the Surrounding Communities

Forget the Zia, salute the slot machine

Ned Cantwell: Guest Columnist

Here’s what we need to do: Can the Zia sun symbol. Give it a special corner at the state museum to represent what New Mexico once stood for. Relegate it to remember-when status.

Look, it’s only a matter of time before the ACLU gets wind of the Zia, anyway. The symbol, which originated with the Indians of Zia Pueblo in ancient times, represents the “Giver of all good gifts.” We all know that to be God, so it will just drive the ACLUers crazy.

The main reason the symbol needs to go, however, is this: It no longer embodies the spirit of New Mexico. Replace it with a picture of a slot machine. Now, that would well represent the state’s new personality.

New Mexico is becoming a gambling mecca, new casinos and racetracks having redefined the meaning of “economic development.” If you can’t attract industry that produces an end product benefiting society and pays people a decent wage, no problem; just carve a dirt track into the desert and throw up some teller windows.

Tucumcari is the latest New Mexico outpost hot to get in on the action. Located on Interstate-40 about 170 miles east of Albuquerque and about 9,000 miles from anything that resembles a promising future, the Quay County sleeper wants — guess what? — a racetrack.

Can you blame her? Once hosting a railroad terminal and serving as a welcome home to those plodding west on Route 66, Tucumcari took a big hit when Interstate 40 opened in 1976 and people began whizzing by at 70 mph, saying, “What was that place we just passed?”

Still, if you are not checking someone in or serving him a hamburger, you are probably jobless in Tucumcari. You can see what a boon a racetrack would be there. And you understand why town leaders perked up when Gov. Bill Richardson suggested their city could be a prime location for a horse track and casino.

The governor’s observation boxed him somewhat into a corner, but not to worry. The guy is world class when it comes to wriggling out of tight spots. This one is occasioned by the fact that his pronouncement in Tucumcari flies in the face of his hand-picked racing commission’s announcement of a moratorium on any new tracks. Whoops.

Guy Clark, executive director of the New Mexico Coalition Against Gambling, made note of “moratorium” and said the word “doesn’t have a lot of ambiguity to it.”

We’ll see. Meanwhile, the fellow responsible for bringing jobs to Tucumcari is Ben Kendrick. His is a challenge just a tad more difficult than running a snow cone franchise in Anchorage. Ben finds himself stuck in a mood located midway between gleeful and ecstatic. He’s talking about beginning construction within two years, and says he is talking with some big-money boys who can make it happen.

So there you have it. The governor says it can happen, his state board says it should not happen, Tucumcari wants it to happen, and the Indian gaming industry says if it happens it will be a breach of their compacts with the state.

And the Zia sun symbol represents basic harmony of all things in the universe. Except, maybe, in New Mexico.

Ned Cantwell is a retired newspaperman living in Ruidoso. Contact him at:

[email protected]