Why is racino outside of free market?

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By Ned Cantwell

The Land of Enchantment seems to have decided she was pleased after all with the spacey, out-of-this-world, little green men Rose Parade float. There persists, however, the notion other themes might have well served New Mexico.One that suggests itself to me is a gambling motif, Three cowboy dudes dealing poker flanked by a bevy of scantily clad cowgirls presiding over roulette wheels and Kenny Rogers singing “you got to know when to show ’emee”Those of us who have been around long enough to savor the more simple days of Bruce King administrations can remember when big time gambling meant a bingo game at the church hall. In season, you could trek to a racetrack and try to hit a daily double.Those with deeper cravings flocked to “game night” at the local men’s lodge where serious wagering was in full swing. Gaming nights were blatantly against the law but since the police chief might well have been dealing cards to the county sheriff, everyone kind of winked and nodded.The explosion of gambling in the last 15-20 years has been phenomenal. It all started when the U.S. Congress, in 1988, passed the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. That allowed tribes to build casinos on their reservations, and New Mexico Indians were quick to cash in.As Indian casinos began springing up around the state, racetrack owners thought the game was fixed. They couldn’t compete with the slots down the street, or so was the lament.This quickly captured the attention of powerful politicians who in the name of protecting the local economy and the cherished horse racing industry, galloped to the rescue. One thing history teaches us about these powerful politicians: They are much more alert to the plight of struggling racetrack owners than they are to the guy losing his shirt at the crap tables.To help racetracks compete, the New Mexico Legislature allowed them to attach casinos, introducing a new work to the language, racinos. There are now five of them in the state, one in Albuquerque, Sunland Park (near Las Cruces), Ruidoso Downs, SunRay Park (near Farmington) and Zia Park (Hobbs).Business must not be all that bad because three communities are competing to land the final racino license to be granted until the year 2037. Raton, Santa Fe and Tucumcari want to throw the dice on this new business venture.The state will decide. Although the question is rhetorical in that the system is not going to change, one can logically ask, why is government mucking around in the horse race industry? Other than checking applicants to make sure they aren’t fronting for some Mafia guy named Louie, why not back off and let any town that can round up investors with deep pockets have a go at it?Why not Artesia? Deming? Los Alamos? Espaola? Let the free market do its thing. The New Mexico Coalition Against Gambling would argue immediate economic benefits to communities will be surpassed by long-term socioeconomic problems caused by gambling. That just may be right.Still, it is hard to understand why some towns are permitted profitable vice, others not. Passing out racing plums subjects politicians to the monetary charms of rich investors, and we have all seen where that takes us.Here’s a thought. There are scads of Wal-Marts in New Mexico. What affects a local economy more than Wal-Mart, a boon to the consumer, a curse to the struggling small retailer? When will Governor Bill and his powerful henchmen begin limiting Wal-Mart stores?

The writer – ncantwell@beyondbb.com – lost ten bucks at Casino Apache and is frosted.