ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. - New Mexico horse racing regulators announced Thursday they have declined to grant a sixth state horse track and casino license after months of uncertainty and millions spent by applicants.
At a regularly scheduled New Mexico Racing Commission meeting, commission chair Beverly Bourguet said the newly appointed body decided it would not approve another license because it was in the "best interest" of the state and existing track and casino operators.
"We are not looking at a sixth race track at the time," Bourguet said. She said the commission may reopen applications for another license in the future.
But Bourguet told The Associated Press after the meeting the commission does not plan on reopening the process anytime soon.
"It's not going to be on the agenda in the near future," she said.
The decision follows appointments to the commission by Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham. A commission previously appointed by former Republican Gov. Susana Martinez had approved opening up the process for applications for a sixth license but those members never selected a candidate.
Under the state's compacts with casino-operating tribes, only six racinos are allowed in New Mexico. The five existing racinos are in Hobbs, Ruidoso, Farmington, Albuquerque, and Sunland Park. The existing track and casino operators opposed a sixth license over concerns it would eat into their revenues and questioned if there was enough of a market to support another racino.
The invitation for applicants to apply for a sixth license attracted three proposals for a racino in the eastern New Mexico community of Clovis, including one that would have featured a moving grandstand to allow spectators to travel alongside running horses.
Tucumcari, along historic Route 66 in eastern New Mexico, was the location cited in two other proposals. Hidalgo Downs wanted to build its racino in Lordsburg, near the Arizona border.
Bourguet said commission looked into all the feasibility studies by the previous commission but concluded it wasn't in a position to grant the license.
Rep. Candy Spence Ezzell, R-Roswell, said she didn't understand why the commission couldn't decide on a license since money was already spent studying the issue." Why invent the wheel? You have all the information right there," she said.
Jeff True, president and general manager of Ruidoso Downs in Ruidoso Downs, New Mexico, said he was pleased the commission opted not to grant a sixth license.
A new racino in the Clovis area "would have eaten into our revenues coming from our Texas visitors. It would have been located in the pathway," True said.
True said if the commission wants to look into a sixth license in the future, everyone will have to have "honest conversations" about racing in New Mexico which may include fewer races.
"We already don't have enough horses to run," he said.