Applicants for Proposed New Mexico Track Wait

by Hector San Miguel

The New Mexico Racing Commission is expected to make a final decision within 60 days on awarding a license for racetrack and casino in Hobbs near the Texas border.

Commissioners held three days of hearings recently for presentations from two applicants seeking the Hobbs license. Since the hearings, the commission has received another application from a group interested in building a Hobbs racetrack, and a letter of intent from another for the same site.

Ken Norton, former owner of Santa Fe Racing, has submitted a license application. The letter of intent received by the commission came from an attorney representing a group of investors, but no name mentioned in the letter.

Julian Luna, executive director of the racing commission, said if the commission doesn't find either of the two applicants that made presentations suitable, then it would probably look at the other applications.

"There is no telling," Luna said. "If they (commission) decide that one of the two applicants is the one, they may go with them. If they decide no, then it would be an opportunity for someone else to have a hearing on their application."
The applicants heard at the commission hearing were Lea Downs and Zia Park Racetrack and Casino.

Developer Shawn Scott wants to spend $25 million to build Lea Downs on 300 acres of land he owns in Hobbs. The track would have 370 employees, 130 of them full-time, and an annual payroll of $2.8 million.

The new track would have 1,200 stalls, a year-round training facility with "ultramodern all-weather barns," and New Mexico's first turf course. It would also have a parlor with 300 slot machines.

Scott is the former owner of Delta Downs in Louisiana. He bought the track for $10 million in 1999 and sold it last year to Boyd Gaming for $130.1 million.

R.D. Hubbard, chairman of Ruidoso Downs, and Bruce Rimbo, president of Ruidoso Downs, are the principals in Zia Park. The developers don't want to build the new track unless it has slot machines.

Luna said the new application and letter of intent will not postpone the commission's consideration of the applications filed by Lea Downs and Zia Park.

A racetrack and slots parlors in Hobbs probably would attract patrons from west Texas cities such as Abilene, Amarillo, Lubbock, Midland, and Odessa. It has been estimated the casino would generate about $13 million more in gaming taxes for the state, and create 225 to 450 new jobs. Slots at the Hobbs track would generate about $54 million in gross revenue annually, according to estimates given to the racing commission.

In another development, Scott reportedly offered to buy Ruidoso Downs and the Billy the Kid Casino from Hubbard. No exact price for the track was mentioned in the offer. By Hector San Miguel