Posted on: February 12, 2024, 10:10h.
Last updated on: February 12, 2024, 10:13h.
City commissioners in Raton, New Mexico — a city of about 6,000 located 100 miles northeast of Taos — have voted to move forward with the transfer of about 130 acres of vacant land there to a sovereign indigenous community.
The Pueblo of Picuris — one of the smallest of New Mexico’s 19 indigenous pueblos, with a population of around 300 – could then build and operate a casino complex in Raton. Or at least that’s the hope.
Raton Mayor Neil Segotta told Colorado Public Radio that the city has been negotiating the possibility of a gaming facility with the pueblo for nearly three years.
Casino-style gaming is only allowed in New Mexico by tribal/state compact with the tribes and pueblos of New Mexico.
The Pueblo of Picuris community is located near the town of Peñasco, where the Picuris people have lived for at least 750 years. Due to its geographical isolation — on the western slope of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains more than 7,000 feet above sea level — the pueblo was missed entirely by all Spanish expeditions until 1591.
Revolts against the Spanish led to the evacuation of the pueblo in 1696, though the Spanish returned about 300 Picuris people to their reservation from the plains in 1706. Their population has remained relatively stable since.
Raton is located 120 miles northeast of the Pueblo of Picuris community. However, it is hoped that some community members would want to relocate to work and live on the casino development site.
Deflating Balloon City
Raton — best known for hosting the International Balloon Rally, a hot-air balloon gathering held every Fourth of July weekend — has a population that is deflating by about 500 people per decade. It declined from 8,225 in 1980, to 7,372 in 2000, to 6,042 in 2020.
Current Raton city manager Richard Mestas told Colorado Public Radio he thinks that adding the resettled casino workers would turn that trend around, boosting the local economy and schools. He also said the city would provide utilities to the casino development.
At the Jan. 23 meeting of the Raton City Commission, former city manager Scott Berry called the proposal “very much designed as a catalyst for economic development in Raton.”
“This is the most powerful catalyst that I know of out there,” echoed former city manager Scott Berry said during the city commission’s Jan. 23 meeting. “If there’s a better idea, I’d like to hear it. I don’t think that doing nothing is a good economic development strategy.”
The commission’s proposal is currently non-binding, so the city is not committed to a land transfer just yet. However, the highway lights are now all green.
“This is a statement of intent to move forward,” Raton Mayor Pro-tem Lori Chatterly told city commissioners. “It is not a deed, it does not transfer any property, it is essentially a show of good faith moving forward.”
A meeting is planned between pueblo leaders and Raton officials this month.