A bill that would allow Instant Racing as a means of funding for transportation and purses in Virginia is on the also-eligible's list hoping to make the field. Members of the Virginia House Committee on General Laws tabled the bill by voice vote Feb. 15. The bill could be brought back up in committee prior to Feb. 20. Virginia’s General Assembly session ends Feb 24.
The bill’s future may have less to do about thoughts about gambling than its impact on transportation funding. Two comprehensive transportation bills are in conference committee. The House rejected a Senate-approved bill because it increases taxes and the Senate rejected a House bill because it utilizes monies from the General Fund.
“I think there are a lot of discussions going on between members of the Assembly,” said Chris Bridge, a legislative consultant to Colonial Downs. “At this stage, it’s a legislative prerogative when it will be heard and what part it will play in transportation funding.”
Should Instant Racing generate $660 million in revenues as projected, $330 million would be designated for transportation funding with $26.4 million set aside for purses. Colonial Downs, the Maryland Jockey Club, the Virginia Tourism Corporation and hosting localities would have a share of the anticipated revenue.
The Senate passed its version of the bill sponsored by Republican Senator Thomas Norment 23-14 Feb. 6. A bill introduced in the House early in the session failed to move past the same impediment, being tabled in the same committee.
“This bill is much improved than what was heard in House Committee several weeks ago,” explained Bridge about the breakout revenues.
Instant Racing allows horseplayers to wager on historic horse races with limited information such as horse’s odds, and jockey and trainer win percentage. Once the wager is placed, the rest of the racing information is disclosed and viewers can watch either the entire race or the last few moments.
Weighed down with referenda requirements by localities and a cap on the number of OTBs allowed, Colonial Downs has been creative in recent initiatives on pari-mutuel racing. Last fall, Colonial partnered with Chevy’s Restaurant and Night Club in Chesapeake, Va., to offer “instant account wagering,” a process that allowed patrons to open accounts and print out programs. It postponed that pilot project after receiving some opposition from state officials.
“The policy decision on pari-mutuel was made in the late 1980s and slots are a non-starter in Virginia,” said Bridge. “It’s a strictly regulated process in Virginia and that’s how the General Assembly likes it."