New Mexico Attorney General Supports Racing Commission In Dispute With Horsemen’s Association

Written By Derek Helling on June 29, 2022 - Last Updated on July 10, 2022
Legal Dispute For Important Ally In New Mexico Racing Commission

A long-running dispute over the use of casino subsidies for horse racing in New Mexico has put the state’s Horsemen’s Association and the New Mexico Racing Commission at odds like siblings wanting to play with the same toy. Recently, the “adult” stepped into “the room” and took a big step toward settling the matter.

The state’s attorney general has thrown its weight into the feud, firmly on the Racing Commission’s side. It could mean less autonomy for the Horsemen’s Association but more consistent funding for purses at the state’s racetracks.

State AG gets in New Mexico Racing Commission’s corner

Last week, New Mexico AG Hector H. Balderas issued an opinion regarding accounts for the deposits of gaming funds for purses. The opinion came from a request the Commission made months in advance.

The AG concluded that the Horsemen’s Association could not choose not to comply with the Commission’s latest rule. That mandates the Horsemen’s Association transfer of funds to tracks in the state. The tracks are to use those funds to supplement purses for race winners.

Rules state that racetracks are entitled to 20% of the net take from New Mexico casino gaming. An updated rule removes the Horsemen’s Association as the bearer of the accounts that contain those funds. Instead, the individual racetracks are now responsible for those accounts.

That strikes at the heart of the fight between the Commission and the Horsemen’s Association. The AG’s ruling might not signal the end of what’s become a standoff, however.

New Mexico’s battle over control of funds has ranged wide

The Horsemen’s Association has filed a federal lawsuit, two-state lawsuits, and an ethics complaint against the Commission. Among the allegations are that the Commission has violated Association members’ civil rights and that the Commission is trying to destroy the Association.

The federal lawsuit from June of 2021 argues that the Commission has unlawfully barred Association members from communications with the Commission and the Commission’s meetings.

Counsel for the Association told the Associated Press that new rules that bar Association members from contributing shares of purses to the Association amounts to “deliberately trying to do away with the group.”

That, along with the shift of the control of the casino subsidy accounts, prompted prior challenges in state courts. Last June, Commission Chairman Sam Bregman insinuated the Association was unnecessary.

“The New Mexico Racing Commission has stopped the New Mexico Horsemen’s Association’s gravy train of redirecting the purses and the New Mexico Horsemen’s Association has now chosen to spend the horsemen’s money on legal fees,” Bregman stated.

“New Mexico horse racing will continue to prosper with or without the New Mexico Horsemen’s Association.”

While those matters remain in litigation, it remains to be seen if the AG’s opinion will spur the Association to comply with the new rules. An opinion and actual enforcement are two separate matters.

What could happen now for New Mexico?

The figurative ball is effectively back in the Association’s court now. The AG’s opinion simply means that in the state’s view of Commission rules, the Association has no legal authority to ignore the new standards.

There are still many options for the Association. Among them are to comply with the rules while its lawsuits play out. Another is to cite the outstanding litigation as a reason for continued non-compliance.

Doing so would effectively be wagering that the AG wouldn’t actually seek to enforce the rules. The state’s AG could cite non-compliance and seek an order from a judge in the state to freeze the Association’s assets or take control of them.

What’s certain is that the AG’s opinion raises the stakes in this dispute and that the Commission has the backing of the state’s highest law enforcement body on this issue. It could still be many months before both sides go to their separate rooms and drop the dispute, though.

Photo by Jeff Schultes / Shutterstock.com
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Written by
Derek Helling

Derek Helling is a lead writer for PlayUSA. He is a 2013 graduate of the University of Iowa and covers the intersections of sports with business and the law.

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