Tucumcari taking long shot on race track

By Chelle Delaney: Freedom New Mexico

It’s a long shot — but betting that a race track license may become available within the next two years — the Quay County Gaming Authority agreed Friday to extend its option on land near Interstate 40.

The authority, which has $9,224 left in its bank account from its $60,000 efforts last year to land a race track license from the New Mexico Racing Commission, voted unanimously to renegotiate its option on about 250 acres of land for $6,000.

“I’m not trying to give anyone false hope … but we want to keep our options open,” said Warren Frost, executive director of the authority and an attorney from Logan.

The authority and the Coronado Partners, LCC, headed up by businessman and Rio Rancho auto dealer Don Chalmers, applied for the state’s last race track license last year. The Racing Commission, however, selected another applicant, Horse Racing at Raton, LP to receive the license.

Earlier in the year, the commission approved an application by Albuquerque Downs, whose principal is Paul Blanchard, to move its racing license from the state fairgrounds in Albuquerque to Moriarty. At that time, the authority was uncertain if the state would consider the move to Moriarty as a transfer or a new license, which would have immediately dashed any hopes of a track in Tucumcari.

The authority and an earlier group of civic leaders have tried for at least five years to bring a race track and casino to Tucumcari, promoting its proximity to the Amarillo population and high traffic count on Interstate 40.

Now, however, with the nation in an economic crisis, Frost said, the question can be raised whether or not any of the two new tracks are going to be built.

“I think under those circumstances that we should keep that land tied up for the next two years,” Frost said. “By June of next year things are going to be solidified.”

About 30 people attended the meeting, and Frost was asked by one audience member why the authority did not appeal the commission’s decision.

“Ultimately, it was Mr. Chalmers decision,” Frost said, adding that Coronado Partner’s numbers showed its proposal would be the most successful.

But the other applicant also would have its numbers, compiled by a CPA, and argue their proposal would be successful and that it would be a difficult determination for a court to make, Frost said.

Audience member Drake Swenson said that, in other words, it was politics.

“In my opinion, it was pay to play,” Swenson said.

The authority represents Tucumcari, Quay County and the villages of San Jon and Logan. Each group contributed to the authority’s operating budget, with Tucumcari and Quay County contributing the most.

Authority representatives voting today were Mike Cherry, interim city manager of Tucumcari, Tucumcari City Commissioners Jim Witcher and Jim Lafferty, Bobbye Rose, manager of the village of San Jon and Quay County Commissioners Bill Curry and Franklin McCasland. McCasland serves as chairman of the authority and is chairman of the Quay County Commission.

Frost said that he had contacted Chalmers and other investors in Coronado Partners and that all were behind the authority taking the option.
The authority paid about $40,000 to the Morris Family and the Pony Soldier, LCC for an 18-month option for land off east Route 66 between Interstate 40 and the Kmart store. That option expired in the fall of 2008, Frost said.