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Hawks circling the city
of Hobbs, NM

Nov 18, 2003 6:38 AM

It is seven or eight hundred miles, as the hawk flies, from Las Vegas to Hobbs, New Mexico. If you know Hobbs, New Mexico, you might logically wonder why any hawk would want to make the flight.

One did last week, however, and was joined by three New Mexico hawks, all circling over luscious prey they had spotted on the barren terrain below.

Hobbs is not a tourist location, or much of anything else. It is, however, on the New Mexico border with Texas, and it is only 50 miles or so from the lively cities of Odessa and Midland, and some 75 from the even livelier sprawl of Lubbock.

Hawks can handle those distances without flapping a wing, and so can people who like to play horses, or even better, slot machines.

So for two years now, the hawks have been circling, trying to zero in on Hobbs as a racino destination, and for two years a perplexed New Mexico racing commission has tried to figure out which hawks to shoot down and which to let land.

This week it will pick the one that lives.

The three New Mexico hawks are R. D. Hubbard, who has built a thriving operation at Ruidoso Downs; Ken Newton, who formerly owned Santa Fe Downs; and a prosperous Santa Fe art dealer named Gerald Peters.

The Las Vegas hawk is Shawn Scott, profiled in this space last week.

That Burnt Offering, incidentally, in which I characterized Scott as "smart," singed telephone lines around the nation, and I got calls saying I had used the wrong word. The callers wanted it to read "slick."

So I turned to my bedside companion, which in this case happened to be the Random House Dictionary of the English Language, The Unabridged Edition, and checked on the two words.

Among the myriad definitions of "smart" were "quick or prompt in action"; "having or showing quick intelligence or ready mental capacity"; "shrewd or sharp, as a person dealing with others"; "clever, witty or readily effective"; and "dashingly or impressively neat or trim in appearance."

No reason to back off on the basis of those qualities.

So I turned to "slick," and found "smooth and glossy"; "smooth in manners, speech, etc"; "sly, shrewdly adroit, as in ”˜He’s a slick customer, all right’"; "ingenious, cleverly devised’;’ and "slippery."

Reading all that, my only answer to the critics, who said among other things said the column would return to haunt me, is what author H. L. Mencken used to tell his critics: "You could be right."

Having your words haunt you is a peril of both writing and horseracing, both of which occupy much of my time.

But back to Hobbs.

The four applicants made their presentations to the New Mexico Racing Commission last week, each telling what they would do for Hobbs if they got to build the racino there.

R. D. Hubbard got most of the space, but the headline that caught my eye was the one ESPN Horse Racing put on an Associated Press story by Pete Herrera.

It read, "Scott stumbles during Hobbs presentation."

The stumble, Herrera wrote, was that the Scott marketing pitch to the commission talked about having bikini-clad waitresses serving liquor to casino patrons.

Herrera wrote, "Oops! New Mexico law forbids the serving or consumption of liquor on the gambling floor of casinos. Besides, waitresses in bikinis might not go over well in a Bible belt town like Hobbs."

I don’t know if Hobbs is a Bible belt town or not. I try to avoid spending much time in Bible belt towns.

I do know that Hobbs is very remote and very dusty.

Come to think of it, so was Las Vegas before things really got started here, and look how far this town has come with bikini-clad waitresses and all that goes with that.

If bare bottoms come to Hobbs, along with slots, the hawk that gets to land there this week will be one happy bird.