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New Mexico Developer Finds Gambling Success

6 January 2005

NEW MEXICO – As reported by the Albuquerque Journal: "Just five years or so into the gambling game, Paul Blanchard is part-owner of the Downs at Albuquerque racetrack and casino and the new Zia Park racino in Hobbs.

"A contractor and developer, he's worth millions.

"He's also a member of Gov. Bill Richardson's inner circle and a major campaign contributor. The governor appointed Blanchard to the state Board of Finance, where they sit next to one another.

"…It's fair to say things have turned around for Paul Blanchard.

"In the real-estate downturn of the late 1980s and early '90s, creditors and state and federal tax collectors dogged him, filing lawsuits and tax liens seeking hundreds of thousands of dollars.

"Blanchard's journey from the IRS doghouse to the Roundhouse is a story, friends say, of a hard-charging deal-maker with a personality that many people warm to.

"…Blanchard took a step into the public arena in 1999 when he purchased an interest in Albuquerque Downs, a political machine of sorts that makes substantial contributions to politicians and lobbies the Legislature, Governor's Office and gaming regulators.

"…Shortly after taking office in January 2003, the Fair Commission, made up of Richardson appointees, scrapped a plan to put the operation of the Albuquerque Downs out to competitive bid. The Downs is part of the fairgrounds and leased to Blanchard's group.

"Later that same year, it was Richardson's hand-picked Racing Commission that gave the coveted licensing for the Hobbs track and casino to a partnership that included Blanchard.

"The governor last year signed a law to take up to an estimated $1.5 million a year in tax revenues from the state's horse-racing tracks and give it to the state Fair Commission for improvements at the fairgrounds.

" But Richardson vetoed language— sought by Aragon and Blanchard— that would have allowed the Fair Commission to enter into a lease for up to 25 years with the operator of the Downs.

"….Blanchard says Richardson told him he vetoed the longtime lease language because Blanchard hadn't come to him to explain the proposal.

"…The Fair Commission has hired an architect and a gaming consultant to study whether it should build a new casino for the Downs, possibly at the corner of a busy intersection.

"The current casino is cramped and inconvenient, limiting its ability to make money for Blanchard and his partners, as well as produce tax dollars for the state and purses for horse racing.

"Also, the Downs is seeking nearly $271,000 from the Racing Commission to cover what it says are extra costs for rebuilding the $4 million-plus horse barn at the fairgrounds. The construction work was done by a Blanchard company…"

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