ew Mexico's five racinos –casinos that operate in tandem with horse racing tracks– have requested Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham to reopen at 50% capacity while complying with COVID-19 protocols.
The properties have been closed under the state’s public health order issued in March, while tribal casinos closed voluntarily in that month as well, but some have now reopened.
"We respectfully implore you to consider allowing New Mexico’s commercial racetrack casinos to reopen our doors in a limited capacity," the letter from the general managers of the racinos in Albuquerque, Farmington, Ruidoso, Sunland Park and Hobbs said.
They said 889 gaming facilities are open in 43 states, including Colorado, New York, Nevada and New Jersey, the Albuquerque Journal reports.
The governor’s press secretary, Nora Meyers Sackett, said in response to a Journal inquiry that, “The situation remains that public health conditions will determine when it is safe to move forward with a limited reopening of those entities.”
Meyers Sackett said the administration has been in regular contact with the non-tribal casinos.
As far as tribal casinos reopening, she said, they have the autonomy to open, but “that doesn’t necessarily make opening a safe decision at this time.”
In the Albuquerque area, tribal casinos Isleta and Route 66 are back in operation with safety measures, such as mask requirements and plexiglass barriers to ensure social distancing, while Santa Ana and Sandia remain closed.
The racetrack general managers in their letter said the racetrack casinos are significant contributors to the state’s economy in paying gaming taxes, gross receipts taxes and as employers. The letter says the combined economic impact of tribal casinos and racetrack casinos is $2.2 billion and 17,400 jobs.
The racetrack casinos first proposed detailed safety protocols to the governor in late May.
Patrons and employees would have their temperatures taken on arrival, and employees would use separate entrances from patrons. Anyone (guests or employees) with a temperature above 100.4 degrees would be turned away with instructions to see their doctor.
The letter said patrons could use player cards and or swipe identification cards when entering to enhance contact tracing, and it provided detailed protocols for food service areas.
The tone of the letter to the governor was conciliatory.
“We continue to applaud your ongoing effort to address the consequences of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) on the citizens and state of New Mexico,” the letter states. “Your leadership is critical to not only save lives, but also preserve the livelihood of hundreds of thousands of New Mexicans across our great state.”
While horse racing has been conducted over the summer at Ruidoso Downs and the Downs at Albuquerque, there have been no bettors in the stands.
Twenty percent of the net win (money taken in from gamblers minus their winnings) at the racetrack casinos is dedicated to the purses for horseracing. An additional 26% is paid to the state. Other expenses, such as salaries, come out of what’s left.