There was little surprise expressed last week when the New Mexico Racing Commission announced it was awarding a license for a racino in Hobbs, N.M. to a group headed by R.D. Hubbard, owner of Ruidoso Downs.
Plans call for a $43 million racetrack and casino to be called Zia Park. The facility housing 600 slot machines is expected to be open in November, 2004 while the racetrack would be in operation about one year later.
Bidders whose plans were rejected included Ken Newton, the former owner of The Downs at Santa Fe who had partnered with Riviera Holdings Corp. (RIV), operator of the Riviera Hotel/Casino on the north end of the Las Vegas Strip; Gerald Peters, a well-known Santa Fe art dealer, and Shawn Scott, the Las Vegas gaming entrepreneur.
Observers felt that Hubbard had sealed the selection when he added businessman Paul Blanchard to his group of investors. Both Blanchard and Peters were considered close friends and contributors to Gov. Bill Richardson.
Hubbard’s application was strongly supported by the racing industry. One commissioner noted that the board had received 51 letters of recommendation "from the elite of thoroughbred racing." There was no discussion of the problem Hubbard had when he was chairman and CEO of Pinnacle Entertainment Inc. (PNK). The company operated at the Belterra riverboat casino in Indiana when it allegedly sent in party girls to entertain some of its high-rollers at a golf outing. Hubbard was ordered to pay a $750,000 fine. He later gave up his executive posts and sold his PNK stock.
Following the announcement, officials of the Riviera said the company would write off the $1.3 million investment it had made in the Newton partnership.