Ruidoso: State Tax Relief Would Avert Move

Ruidoso Downs is seeking tax relief from the state but is looking at other options.

Ruidoso Downs in New Mexico has indicated it will stay put if it gets tax relief from the state, but if not it plans to move to Las Cruces, located about 85 miles southwest.

Track officials said Nov. 17 they filed an application with the New Mexico Racing Commission to move the license for 2011 racing dates to Las Cruces, where a racetrack would have to be built. Las Cruces is about 45 miles northwest of Sunland Park, the New Mexico track near El Paso, Texas.

Ruidoso officials said the track is losing money because its market, one of the smallest in the state, is now home to three casinos. The Ruidoso Downs gaming operation is called the Billy the Kid Casino.

As it has in the past, Ruidoso Downs will ask the state legislature, when it convenes in 2010, for tax relief. In New Mexico, racetrack casinos pay 26% of revenue to the state and 20% for purses and breed development; tribal casinos pay 3%-9%, officials said.

According to the latest New Mexico Gaming Control Board annual report, five racetrack casinos in the state generated $248.5 million in revenue, or net win, in 2008. The state's share was $64.6 million; horsemen, through purses, got $49.7 million; and $621,000 went to programs for problem gambling. The five operators combined got $133.6 million; tracks in larger markets earned much bigger percentages.

“We’re asking the legislature to work with us to find a solution such as a similar revenue-sharing formula used for tribal casinos and keep Ruidoso Downs and Billy the Kid Casino in Ruidoso,” track president and general manager Ann McGovern said in a statement. “The track and casino are cornerstones of our local economy, and we would certainly like to stay in Ruidoso.

“The request to move our racing dates is the first step toward finding another option to return our business to profitability if we’re not successful during the upcoming legislative session.”

“We live here and love the area,” Ruidoso Downs owner R.D. Hubbard said. “This is our home. However, we will secure the future of our New Mexico racing and casino operations. We want these enterprises stay in Ruidoso. But we can’t continue to bleed money in an inequitable business environment.”

Ruidoso Downs is looking for property in Las Cruces, a larger city at the junction of two interstate highways.

Ruidoso Downs already has scheduled its racing dates for 2010. The meet is set to begin May 28 and run through Labor Day for a total of 60 days.

The track offers a mixed meet of Thoroughbred and Quarter Horse racing. The highlight of its season is the $2-million All American Futurity for Quarter Horses on Labor Day.

The state racing commission last year awarded a license for a new track in Raton, just south of the Colorado border.