Consultant: All Groups Eligible for New Mexico License

By Associated Press

The four groups competing for the license to open a new racetrack and casino in Hobbs either have extensive experience in racing and gaming, or have put together a management team with such expertise.

That was the conclusion reached by the consulting firm hired by the State Racing Commission to evaluate the proposals from the four applicants.

The commission on Thursday released the final report from Whitesand Consulting of Atlantic City, the firm that reviewed the four applications and the extensive information submitted by each applicant.

The four groups seeking the Hobbs license are headed by Santa Fe art dealer Gerald Peters; Ruidoso Downs owner R.D. Hubbard; former Downs at Santa Fe owner Ken Newton; and Nevada businessman Shawn Scott.

The four groups next week will make final presentations to the State Racing Commission on their proposals. The commission is expected to announce on Nov. 19 which one of the four will get the Hobbs license.

Hubbard is the majority owner in the Zia Park partnership that also includes Ruidoso Downs president Bruce Rimbo, Ed Allred, the owner of the Los Alamitos racetrack in California horse racing circles and Paul Blanchard, the president of the Downs at Albuquerque.

Newton owned and operated the now closed Downs at Santa Fe for more than 25 years, while Scott has been involved in gaming and racing operations in Nevada, Louisiana and New York, the report noted.

Newton would name the Hobbs track Saddlebrook Park, while Scott's application was filed under the name of Lea Downs.

Peters, whose primary business interests before now have involved art galleries, restaurants and real estate, has put together a management team under the name of Hobbs Downs that includes Richard Cummings, whose background in racing includes working at Churchill Downs in Kentucky and racetracks in New Jersey and Philadelphia.

The proposals from the four applicants contain estimated total project costs that range from $24.1 million by Scott's group to $51.5 million from Peters. Construction cost estimates range from $13.2 million by Scott to $39.1 million by Peters.

Hobbs Downs, Saddlebrook Park and Lea Downs want to have 600 slot machines, while Zia Park's application calls for 300 machines. Under state law, a racetrack can have up to 600 slot machines in its casino.

Each applicant is seeking a different number of live racing days: Zia Park 53, Hobbs Downs 50, Saddlebrook Park 43 and Lea Downs 70.

Commission Chairman Jack Cole said the consultant's report will be one of several factors the commission will use in determining who gets the license.

"The commission will carefully weigh the long-term impact the track will have on Lea County and the state of New Mexico. We will look out for the best interests of both," Cole said in a statement issued by the commission Thursday.

Discussions on the Hobbs track have been ongoing for several years and Gov. Bill Richardson supports the opening of a new racing oval in the southeast New Mexico city.