New Mexico Horse Racing dispute leads to ethics complaint

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A group representing thousands of racehorse owners filed an ethics complaint against New Mexico’s gambling and racing regulators. They claimed violations of their constitutional rights.

Monday’s confirmation by the New Mexico Horsemen’s Association that it had filed a complaint against the Racing Commission and Gaming Control Board was Monday. In an ongoing struggle for control over purse money and winnings at racetracks, the association alleges that the two regulatory panels have been appointed by the association to silence its members.

Horse owners claim that New Mexico’s private racetrack and casino operations have diverted purse money to pay track expenses over the years in violation of state law.

In December 2020, the association asked a judge in a state district court to stop using purse money for liability insurance. The horse owners claim that the $8 million they have spent on purse money transfers to pay for track operating expenses has cost them more then $8 million.

In May 2021, the Racing Commission made administrative changes to allow the racetrack-casino operations, rather than the association, to collect, manage, and disburse purse money. Also, the changes meant that the association would no more receive voluntary contributions from its members via a percentage their winnings.

Although the court has stayed the action of the commission, the association claims that regulators have violated the order and that it owes more than $300,000. The group claims that current oversight of purse money is inadequate.

Gary Mitchell, an attorney representing horse owners, stated that the case could have wider implications for the state government.

Mitchell stated that Mitchell saw two state agencies refusing obey court orders and not following the recommendations of their own hearing officers. “It is not possible for state agencies to ignore the courts in order to diminish those they don’t care about.”

The allegations were denied by officials from the regulatory panels.

Izzy Trejo, executive director of the Racing Commission stated that “The New Mexico Horsemen’s Association was caught with their hand in a cookie jar by wrongfully stealing money from purses and calling them member dues.” “The New Mexico Racing Commission will follow all state statutes, and that’s exactly what we are doing.”

Trejo stated that officials were still reviewing the case and could not comment on the claims that regulators had ignored the court’s order to stay the proceedings.

The association claimed that it had successfully managed the disbursement and collection of purse money in excess of $10 million over the past two decades.

To prove that, “not even one penny” was ever lost or found out of its place, the group cited independent audits and reconciliation statements as well as commission documents.

New Mexico, as part of gambling pacts made with Native American tribes legalized slot machines at racetracks beginning in 1990s. However, 20% of the net revenue was to go towards purses that would support horse racing.

According to the association, horse owners compete at five state tracks and receive about $30 million annually. A portion of the money was raised by members who receive purse money from their horses when they place.

In recent years, the relationship between the Horsemen’s Association (the advocacy group) and the commission has been contentious. The advocacy group has voiced concerns about the conditions at the tracks and objected to the lengthening of the race meets.

Last summer, the association filed a federal lawsuit claiming that the commission had violated civil rights of racehorse trainers and owners.