Retama Nears Financing Deal

Unnamed casino group set to provide funding.

March 17, 2012

Retama Park

According to a story published Friday on the San Antonio Express-News website, officials at Retama Park are close to a deal with an unnamed casino group that would fund the facility's losses and operations for the next six years and repay millions in track debt.

The deal would give Retama Park a much-needed lifeline and allow track officials at least three more opportunities to persuade state lawmakers to let voters decide whether to permit slot machines and possibly other casino games at Texas racetracks. Past legislative efforts have failed and the Texas legislators won't meet again until January.

“It ensures our survivability, and it's the best solution we've seen to our financial issues,” Retama Park CEO Bryan Brown said of the deal with the casino company.

On Thursday, members of the Retama Development Corp. (RDC), a municipal subdivision of Selma that owns the racetrack, agreed to borrow $1.27 million from the casino company. The money would cover the horse track's operating losses while the Texas Racing Commission reviews the deal and the Texas Department of Public Safety conducts background checks on officials with the casino group. Commission approval for such deals generally takes four to six months, Brown said.

The identity of the casino company could be revealed by the end of this month, when terms of a final agreement should be presented to the RDC board, which is expected to approve it. The casino company is publicly traded, Brown said.

Under the terms of the transaction still being negotiated, the casino company would fund Retama's operating losses for six years, Brown said. The track has never made money since opening in 1995. The casino company also would repay some of the RDC's debt — $7.2 million in senior bonds and a $1.6 million note, he said.

In return, the casino company would take over management of the track through a newly formed company. Retama Entertainment Group, which currently manages the track, would receive compensation for giving up the management contract, Brown said. Retama Entertainment Group's majority owner is Call Now Inc.

The casino company also would purchase a majority ownership stake in another new company, Retama Partners LLC, which would hold the track's racing license. The license currently is held by Retama Partners Ltd., a partnership comprised of numerous individuals and trusts. According to a list compiled last year, the partners included Spurs majority owner Peter Holt, car dealer Marsha Shields of McCombs Enterprises, and Drake Leddy, a developer and the partnership's chairman. A trust affiliated with Joseph Straus Jr., the father of Joe Straus, speaker of the Texas House, also held an interest.

Brown acknowledged the casino company's interest in getting involved with a money-losing operation is based on the hope that gaming will be expanded at Texas racetracks at some point.

“They know what the odds are,” Brown said. “They know it's not a slam dunk, so they are making a sizable investment at some great risk that gaming won't be passed. They realize that. They're big boys.”

Quarter Horses will race at Retama Park from June 8 through August 11.