New Mexico State Fair Casino Process Questioned - October 14, 2011

"...this is a huge contract with long term implications and it’s in the hands of Governor Susanna Martinez..."

This blog has been following the dealings at Expo New Mexico involving a long-term contract for the right to operate the race track and casino in the heart of Albuquerque.

The process for this pending deal, which would generate at least $2 million per year for the financially-strapped state institution and which would give the winning bidder up to a 25-year contract, is being questioned by at least two New Mexico State Fair commissioners, according to a recent copyrighted story written by Charles Brunt in the Albuquerque Journal.

The Downs at Albuquerque, a privately owned corporation, has been operating the race track at the Downs since the mid-1980s and established a casino when Indian Gaming paved the way in the mid 1990s.  Their contract expired, a one-year extension was granted and a request for proposals issued in which the Fair asked for a minimum of $2 million per year for the right to operate the race track and casino area.

The New Mexico State Fair (NMSF), which is a state enterprise agency (they are supposed to create their own funding via profits from the operation of the fair), has a seven-member commission appointed by the governor.  The manager, usually a political appointee, reports to the commission.

The NMSF received two proposals (see Sept. 26 blog), one from the Downs at Albuquerque and another from Laguna Development Corporation, the enterprise arm of the Laguna Pueblo which owns and operate Route 66 Casino and Dancing Eagle Casino.

Brunt writes in his Oct. 12 story that at least two of the appointed State Fair commission have indicated they are being asked to “rubber stamp” the decision made by a three-person committee, also appointed by the governor, to evaluate and negotiate a contract. The contract would then be presented to the State Fair Commission for a vote.

According to the Journal, commissioners Charlotte Rode of Albuquerque and Benny Roybal of Espanola said at a public meeting with the NMSF Neighborhood Association that the process was “inappropriate,” that they are “uncomfortable” about not being able to review the proposals, and that they felt the 31 days given from the time the RFP was issued to the deadline did not give other potential bidders enough time.

As I stated in my Sept. 26 blog, this is a huge contract with long term implications and it’s in the hands of Governor Susanna Martinez.  The three people who have been given the power to negotiate the contract were all appointed by the governor.  The State Fair commission is appointed by the governor and members can be removed at any time.  And while some of the commissioners may not like the fact they are being asked to approve a deal in which they will have had no review or input, they can either do so, resign, or let another governor-appointed commissioner make the decision.