Updated: Wednesday, 23 Nov 2011, 8:00 AM MST
Published : Wednesday, 23 Nov 2011, 8:00 AM MST
ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) - A former ally of Gov. Susana Martinez is making new claims that the governor's office pushed for the Downs at Albuquerque to win the bid at Expo New Mexico.
The state fair commission surprisingly, and narrowly, voted Monday to extend the racino's lease for another 25 years. For weeks, critics have complained the process was rushed and secretive, claiming if the governor's office had allowed more time, the state would have gotten more bids and more money.
"It was clear from the governor and her staff that they wanted this lease done," said Tom Tinnin, a former Republican chairman of the state fair commission.
Tinnin was also appointed by the governor earlier this year to sit on the Board of Finance, which will have the final vote on the deal next month. Tinnin, who recently resigned, said he was pressured from the governor's office to approve the Downs deal.
"I found it very distasteful and I didn't feel it was professional," said Tinnin.
Critics said political allies of the governor were involved in negotiating the lease for the Downs, such as former Albuquerque Public Safety Director Darren White, who helped put the proposal together, and the Downs' lawyer Pat Rogers, a mover and shaker in the Republican Party. A three-member governor-appointed committee also selected the racino over the only other bidder, the Laguna Development Corporation, which runs the Route 266 Casino.
Rob Doughty, chairman for the racing commission, told News 13 that the Laguna Development Corporation does not currently have a racing license, and it could take years for the company to obtain one.
The governor's office denies allegations of pushing any deal through.
"Governor Martinez went above and beyond the requirements of the law by insisting that the lease be competitively bid and that all entities be allowed to compete, not just racinos," said spokesman Scott Darnell.
Darnell also said Tinnin was unhappy because the governor refused to put him on the three-member committee that ended up chosing the winning bid.
"It was determined that serving on both the selection committee and the Board of Finance would have presented a conflict," said Darnell. "Governor Martinez asked Mr. Tinnin to support the integrity of the process without pre-judging a lease he hadn't yet read and provide his input at the Board of Finance, where he had the power to amend, or entirely oppose, any lease."
State fair officials announced it would accept "request for proposals" on July 24 for the 93 acres that Expo New Mexico has leased since 1985 to the Downs at Albuquerque. Then, bidders were given 30-days to submit their proposals, more than three times longer than the state requires, according to Darnell.
State Fair Commissioner Larry Kennedy also said the process was open and transparent.
"The lease is a good for the fair," said Kennedy. "It's a very good deal for what the fair needs to do to sustain itself."
Under the new lease, the Downs will pay Expo New Mexico $2 million a year in rent, the same amount in pays now. By 2014, that will climb to $2.75 million. The Downs will also build a new casino, with twice as many slots, which will more than double its profits to $40 million. Expo New Mexico could also share in some of the profits. For example, if the Downs' slots profits hit $50 million a year, the fair will get $1 million more in rent.
But some critics said that's a sweet deal for the Downs, but sour for the state.
"The State of New Mexico loses out, for sure, because I don't think this is the best contract we could have come up with," said State Fair Commissioner Charlotte Rode.
The governor has ordered that all the casino records and proposals be released to the public and put on the web when any final lease is signed.