New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has replaced the state racing commission with five new appointees, according to multiple press reports. The decision comes after the previous commission repeatedly delayed a vote on how to award the state's sixth and final license for a racino.
The previous commission delayed a vote based on a feasibility study which cast doubt on one of the proposals. That study is now the subject of a challenge pending in district court; the challenge prompted the state Attorney General to tell the commission in January to hold off selecting a winning applicant until the challenge of the feasibility study had been resolved. Otherwise, the office threatened to withdraw as the legal counsel overseeing the licensing.
The new commission will be comprised of former commissioners Beverly Bourguet and David “Hossie” Sanchez along with owners and breeders John Buffington, Freda McSwane and Billy G. Smith.
An article published earlier this year by the Santa Fe New Mexican pointed out the connection between the racino applicants and the race for governor — both Grisham's campaign and that of her opponent received thousands in donations from groups competing for the license.
The Santa Fe New Mexican also learned the now-former commission chair Ray Willis owns horses with R.D. Hubbard, former owner of Ruidioso Downs and Johnny Cope, a business associate of Hubbard's. R.D. Hubbard's grandson Shaun heads up one of the groups vying for the new racino license.
Willis told the newspaper his racing partnership with the Hubbards (he has also raced horses with Shaun Hubbard) would not create a conflict of interest with his work overseeing the licensing process.
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