RATON, New Mexico (STPNS) -- The New Mexico Racing Commission on Friday reaffirmed its intention to issue the state's final horseracing license to a Raton racino project. In doing so, the commission rejected the license application of a Canadian investor who wants to build a racino in southwest New Mexico.

The Raton racino investment group, Horse Racing at Raton, is also led by a Canadian, Toronto-area real estate developer Michael Moldenhauer. The five-member state racing commission on Aug. 25 unanimously voted to direct its staff to work toward issuing Horse Racing at Raton the final available license when the licenses for the 2010 season are issued sometime next year.



Just days before the Aug. 25 commission decision in favor of Raton - and rejection of proposals seeking to build a racino in Tucumcari and to reopen the Downs at Santa Fe as a racino - the application for a racing license for a racino in Lordsburg was submitted. The racing commission held a public meeting in Lordsburg for the proposed Hidalgo Downs late last month before the commission denied it the license during a Friday afternoon meeting in Albuquerque.

The Albuquerque Journal reported the commissioners as voicing reasons similar to those they previously expressed when they decided Raton was the best spot among the initial three applicants for horseracing to be expanded to. Those reasons included geographic balance throughout the state for the industry, the size of the Raton track and a greater potential number of race dates, and the fact that the five existing horse tracks in the state have thrown their support behind the Raton racino.

The Hidalgo Downs investor, Dale Peterson of British Columbia, accused the commissioners of using "excuses" in order to maintain the position they held in favor of Raton before they conducted Friday's meeting and told the commission that he planned to "protest" its decision, according to the Journal.

However, the state statute regarding the commission making determinations about issuing or denying racing licenses says such determinations "shall be final and not subject to appeal." Still, that would not necessarily preclude Peterson from protesting through a District Court case.

A 30-year agreement signed last year by the state and New Mexico Indian tribes that operate full-scale casinos on their reservations limits to six the number of non-Indian-land racinos the state can have. Five already exist and Raton will be the sixth.

Even though the commission granted the state's last license to Horse Racing at Raton in August, state law required the commission to hold a public meeting in the community where the application sought to race, and then to take action on the application, which was done Friday.

A few weeks after Raton won the commission's approval and while the commission was preparing to go through the process to consider the Lordsburg application, Chris Coppin, the racing commission's attorney, said it would be "a monumental shift in commission policy" if the commission withdrew its approval of giving the license to Raton and granted it instead to Lordsburg.

The slot-machine casino portion of the $50 million racino in south Raton is expected to be up and running sometime next year, with live racing to follow in June 2010.

Horse Racing at Raton must still apply for a gaming license for the casino part of the facility. State officials have said the winner of the racing license should not have a problem getting the gaming license.

The Raton racino is to be built on land in what the city calls its Technology and Development Park on the east side of Interstate 25 just south of Hereford Avenue. The city and Horse Racing at Raton have entered into an agreement in which the city will sell up to 400 acres to the racino group for $1 in expectation that the racino - along with an accompanying events center - will lead to more local jobs and an overall economic boost for the city and area.

Once live racing begins, Horse Racing at Raton projects the racino will bring 300 permanent jobs and a $7 million annual payroll.