New panel will consider bids for New Mexico racino license

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Legislature Convenes-New Mexico_1556229480385

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham gives her State of the State address during the opening of the New Mexico legislative session at the state Capitol in Santa Fe, N.M. on Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2019. (AP Photo/Craig Fritz)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — The governor appointed a new panel of regulators Thursday to oversee New Mexico’s horse racing industry amid a legal battle centered on the state’s sixth and final license for a racetrack and casino.

The commission will decide the contentious competition for the lucrative license that includes a contested feasibility study on the economics behind the five proposals under consideration.

Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said she expects the commissioners to be fair and equitable.

“These five individuals are experienced and knowledgeable, and I have every confidence they will ably regulate and promote the continued development of this industry,” she said in a statement.

The appointments include two members who previously served on the panel as well as others who have been involved in the industry for years.

— Beverly Bourguet was a commission member from 2011 to 2015 and is a founding member of the Downs at Albuquerque Chaplaincy. She breeds and raises quarter-horses and races quarter horses and thoroughbreds.

— David “Hossie” Sanchez, owner of San Bar Racing LLC, was a commissioner from 2003 to 2009 and has served on the State Fair Commission since 2009.

— John Buffington, former chief operating officer of the San Juan Regional Medical Center, has decades of experience as an owner and breeder.

— Freda McSwane, an attorney from southern New Mexico, is an active owner and breeder.

— Construction company owner Billy G. Smith has been involved in the racing industry since the 1970s. He also has served on various boards for the American Quarter Horse Association.

The previous commission repeatedly put off a vote on the racino license, saying the legal dispute needed to be addressed before the panel could move forward.

The board recently took a step toward doing that by ratifying a proposed settlement with one of the applicants, but it will be up to a judge to decide whether to dismiss the case.

With the case pending, it could be a month before the new commission provides any insight into how it will handle the racino license. The next meeting will be May 16.

Attorneys for some applicants are concerned that the commission might have to restart the process. Others say there’s nothing to prevent the new commissioners from reviewing all the past meeting minutes, feasibility study and public comments before determining whether to award the license.

Lujan Grisham had asked the commission earlier this year for more research and information on the selection process. The previous commissioners did not fulfill that request.

The applications include three separate proposals for a racino in the Clovis area, one in Tucumcari and one in Lordsburg.

Under state compacts with casino-operating tribes, only six racinos are allowed in New Mexico. The five existing establishments are in Hobbs, Ruidoso, Farmington, Albuquerque and Sunland Park.

The existing racinos have voiced concerns about adding a sixth venue, saying doing so would hurt their business. They have described New Mexico’s racing industry as far from healthy, saying additional forces could result in more downward pressure on the industry.

Campaign records show Lujan Grisham received political donations from the existing racinos and their owners as well as individuals and companies with ties to at least two of the license applicants.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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