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Should Tucumcari get a racino? March 26, 2012

Posted by Ron Warnick in Sports, Towns.
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The headline above doesn’t dispute that the Route 66 town of Tucumcari, N.M., is qualified to land a horse-racing casino, which it has been seeking for the past few years.

It’s whether Tucumcari should land a racino.

Over the weekend, the New York Times published a well-researched and scathing article about the horse-racing industry. In short, the newspaper found “an industry still mired in a culture of drugs and lax regulation and a fatal breakdown rate that remains far worse than in most of the world,” despite pledges of reform.

This has resulted in more horses dying on the racetrack, and more jockeys being killed or maimed.

Drilling down, the most disturbing part is the evidence indicates that New Mexico has the poorest oversight. Excerpts from the article:

According to the analysis, five of the six tracks with the highest incident rates last year were in New Mexico. […]

In at least two states, 2-year-olds may not race with any Flunixin. Not so in New Mexico, where they can run with up to 50 nanograms of the drug, more than double the amount allowed in a higher class of competition called graded stakes races. […]

Tests on horses in New Mexico showed results over 104 nanograms on 68 occasions since 2009, with some registering 1,000 and even 2,400, records show. The levels are so high that regulatory veterinarians in other states say the horses must have been drugged on race day, a practice that is forbidden. […]

Four of the state’s five racetracks, including Zia Park and Ruidoso, are unaccredited, and the track where Mr. Martin’s injury occurred does not report accidents or positive drug tests to groups that monitor such events.

New Mexico also recorded no positive tests in 2010 and 2011 for the most frequently abused pain medicine in racing, phenylbutazone, a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory commonly known as “bute.” After The Times asked why none had been found, the new executive director of the state’s racing commission, Vince Mares, said that after researching the question, he discovered that the previous leadership “had cut back on the tests” for financial reasons. […]

In recent years, the state commission has had its embarrassments.

One former investigator faces trial on charges of stealing horses while working at the commission. Another trainer’s doping violation was dismissed because the assistant attorney general handling the case neglected to show up in court. And the commission had to drop charges against Ramon O. Gonzalez Sr. for drugging 10 horses because it forgot to file the proper paperwork, according to the state attorney general’s office.

The report contains more damning excerpts about horse racing in New Mexico, but you get the gist.

Many folks in Tucumcari, which has seen a 10 percent drop in population that past 10 years, view a racino as a sort of silver bullet for jobs and the local economy. (Tucumcari has applied for a gaming license that was revoked from Raton, but Raton headed to court to fight it.)

U.S. horse racing already is seeing a decline. Adding a casino almost certainly will increase crime in town. But this apparently poor oversight by the state would be the last straw for me. Barring a strong effort for reform, I would probably say “thanks, but no thanks” if the state of New Mexico offered a racino license.

Surely there are better — and more principled — ways to boost Tucumcari’s economy.

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