The Eastern New Mexico News - Serving Clovis, Portales and the Surrounding Communities

Proposed racetrack settlement ratified


April 24, 2019

The New Mexico Racing Commission’s ratification Thursday of a proposed settlement clears the way for it possibly awarding a sixth racetrack license during a special meeting on Tuesday — provided the governor doesn’t fire the commission first.

The commission, after a closed executive session during its regular meeting Thursday at its office in Albuquerque, approved the agreement with Hidalgo Downs LLC, one of the license applicants from Lordsburg. A settlement was announced in early April between Hidalgo and the New Mexico attorney general’s office.

Commissioners did not make a statement after the decision, except to say a special meeting would be set for Tuesday to discuss the license. A date or agenda for the special meeting still had not been posted on the commission’s website early this week.

Days before a license was to be awarded in December, Hidalgo filed a request for an injunction. It claimed an independent feasibility study of the applicants from Clovis, Tucumcari and Lordsburg was flawed and that commission Chairman Ray Willis had a conflict of interest with one of the Clovis applicants. Willis has denied taking actions that could be construed as a conflict of interest.

The settlement still hasn’t been approved in court, and several applicants opposed the deal during a court hearing in Albuquerque earlier this month. A new court date to deal with the settlement has not been set.

Warren Frost, a Logan attorney and one of the principals for Coronado Partners that want to bring an $80 million racetrack and casino to Tucumcari’s east side, said during a telephone interview Friday that Coronado Partners and two of three Clovis applicants — L&M and Full House — oppose a license being awarded next week.

“The Hubbard group (in Clovis) is pleased there was a settlement and a decision will be made,” Frost said. “”You can read whatever into it about Hubbard being happy about it.”

Frost didn’t elaborate on why the Hubbard group wanted the settlement but said: “There’s no question from my interactions with them over the last two weeks this is how they wanted to proceed.”

Shaun Hubbard, reached Tuesday about Frost’s comment, said, “I’m a horseman and a horse breeder first and foremost and I’m excited about a progressive horse racing industry in New Mexico and that’s what I’ve always been about. So anything moving along horse racing in New Mexico as an industry as a whole, I’m for.

“I don’t have any standing, nor does anyone else, (meaning) any other applicant, in Hidalgo and the racing commission’s case ... there’s nobody that has any standing in that case except for Hidalgo, and they settled (with) the racing commission. So for me to have a stance is a moot point.”

Frost also said the commission’s new lawyer, Gideon Eliot, acting on behalf of the New Mexico attorney general, said the pending court decision over the settlement does not keep the commission from awarding a sixth license. That is a departure from Eliot’s predecessor, Tania Maestas, who insisted on a resolution of the legal dispute before the commission’s decision.

An email to Eliot requesting comment was not immediately answered.

A wild card hanging over the proceedings is the possibility Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham may fire the commission and appoint her own commissioners, setting the license process back to square one.

Lujan Grisham in January wrote a letter expressing concerns about the license process and the feasibility study. She stated in the letter “additional study would be prudent.”

Frost said several weeks ago he anticipated the governor would fire the commission, and he said Friday he still thinks that is possible.

“I think she’s a person of her word, and so I’d hope she wouldn’t let this current racing commission make the decision,” he said.

If the commission awards the coveted sixth license on Tuesday, Frost acknowledged the possibility of lawsuits by one of the losing applicants, though he would not commit to such action from Coronado Partners.

“I guess it depends on who they award it to,” he said. “The entire process is fraught with problems. I hope we don’t have to demonstrate those to a judge at some point in the future.

“But if we do, we do.”

Staff writer David Grieder contributed to this report.


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