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Presidio County voters to consider legalizing betting on horse races

A group of investors with ties to Presidio is pushing plans to build a new horse racing track in the West Texas border town, but the plan hinges on local voters legalizing gambling on the races within Presidio County.

By Travis Bubenik

A new horse race track could be coming to the city of Presidio — if voters approve horse betting on the Nov. 2 election.

On the ballot in Presidio County this year are two questions about legalizing gambling on local horse racing. One asks residents to vote for or against in-person wagering on races, while the other asks voters to weigh in on “simulcast races,” which simply means betting virtually or from another location.

The ballot questions are directly related to a planned horse track, tentatively dubbed “Presidio Desert Downs.” The driving force behind the project is Presidio native Jose Valdez along with a group of eight other investors.

In an interview, Valdez said the investors are modeling their vision for the track in part on Ruidoso Downs in southeastern New Mexico, though their ambition would be for the facility to someday grow to the size of major horse tracks like those in the Houston and Dallas areas.

“We think that with the plans we have, that we could even get up to maybe even more than 10,000 folks,” he said. “Whenever you first start, it just doesn’t happen that way, you need to build up to that.”

Presidio County Commissioners voted earlier this year to place the gambling issue on the ballot after being approved by the race track organizers, according to the Big Bend Sentinel.

Many details about the $25-30 million plan - including where exactly the track would be built, when it would be up and running, and even its final name - are still being hashed out, Valdez said.

So far, investors in the race track have only released a preliminary design of the proposed facility, which Valdez stressed could change as the proposal moves forward.

Valdez believes the project could revitalize Presidio’s economy.

“We want to inject some kind of tourism to the area, because the city of Presidio itself, there’s a decline in population,” Valdez said. “We’re losing people. Most of us had to leave there.”

If voters approve the ballot items, Valdez and his group would then have to apply for a licensefrom the Texas Racing Commission, which oversees horse and dog racing within the state.

The investors would abandon their plan if either of the ballot items fail, Valdez said.

“We’re letting the people speak, and if we get a no, then so be it,” he said.

Travis Bubenik is All Things Considered Host and Big Bend Reporter at Marfa Public Radio.