Raton city commissioners voted 4-1 in a recent meeting to move forward with a deal to transfer more than 132 acres of land to the Pueblo of Picuris, an Indigenous community near the town of Peñasco, N.M. The currently vacant plot in Raton rests at the southern end of town and it could become part of the Pueblo’s sovereign land, allowing them to build and operate a gambling facility there.
The Pueblo of Picuris is one of New Mexico’s 19 Indigenous pueblos. Today, it is the smallest in northern New Mexico, with a population of around 300, according to a representative from the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
The Pueblo of Picuris did not respond to multiple interview requests. However, Scott Berry, Raton’s former city manager, said that the Pueblo was “very interested” in the project. Additionally, Raton Mayor Neil Segotta said that the city and Pueblo have been in negotiations regarding a gaming facility for close to three years.
The city commission first introduced the resolution at a meeting on Jan. 8 and returned to approve the resolution on Jan. 23. In the latter meeting, commissioners heard input from current city manager Richard Mestas, his predecessor Scott Berry, and multiple members of the community.
Berry expressed support for the project as a way of jumpstarting Raton’s economy through tourism brought in by a casino.
“Make no mistake, commissioners, this proposal in front of you is very much designed as a catalyst for economic development in Raton,” he said. “This is the most powerful catalyst that I know of out there. 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.”
Current City Manager Richard Mestas said in an email exchange that the current discussion is for a casino to be built on the land, with the possibility for a hotel or restaurant as well.
Mestas said that the city expects employees from the development to live in Raton, which could boost the local economy and the schools. He also said the city would provide utilities to any development on the site.
The commission ultimately voted to approve the resolution, though members such as Mayor Pro-tem Lori Chatterley stressed that the resolution is not binding and it does not commit the city to the land transfer just yet.
“This is a statement of intent to move forward,” she said. “It’s not a binding contract. It is not a deed, it does not transfer any property, it is essentially a show of good faith moving forward.”
Mestas said that a meeting is planned between Pueblo leaders and city elected officials this month.
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