Instant Racing Bill Introduced in Virginia

A proposed bill on "Instant Racing" could make an instant impact on purse account and potholes in Virginia. Delegate Phillip A. Hamilton (R-Newport News) and State Senator Thomas K. Norment, Jr. (R-James City) have introduced bills for consideration during a special transportation session of the General Assembly that convenes in Richmond on Sept. 27.

Under the proposal, Colonial Downs would be allowed to accept wagers at its New Kent County racetrack and nine OTBs on "historical horse races"- races that have been previously held at various licensed horse tracks. Participants would be able to access certain handicapping data such as a jockey's winning percentages prior to placing a wager. After placing a wager, identifiable data such as the horse's name, jockey names would be released with patrons being able to watch the historical race on a monitor.

Instant Racing first originated at Arkansas' Oaklawn Park. Under the Virginia proposal, 49% of the takeout would be dedicated to the Commonwealth Transportation Trust Fund which is used primarily for road maintenance, 49% assigned to Colonial Downs and 2% designated to purse accounts. Subject to the number of machines allowed, it has been estimated that the game could generate revenue that would exceed $660 million annually once fully implemented.

"The horsemen would substantially benefit. It would triple the amount of the purse account," says Ian Stewart, President of Colonial Downs.

"I'm glad that people are starting to talk about it," said Glenn Petty, executive director of the Virginia Thoroughbred Association. "It would be good for horse racing and it would be good for the state. The fact that a bill has been submitted at all is progress."

Virginia legislators have wrestled with funding transportation programs without raising fees or taxes.

"It would be tough to get it done in a four-day special session," added Petty. "I'm more hopeful to hear the conversation in the 2007 session.

"The state is looking for funding for transportation," added Stewart. ""I can't really handicap it politically. Potentially, it's a very good solution."

Concurrently but not simultaneously, Colonial Downs has "mothballed" its marketing initiative with Chevy's Restaurant and Night Club in Chesapeake, Virginia. The program allowed visitors to open a TVG advance deposit wagering account through a red phone hotline, print programs at a kiosk, wager through remote control and watch racing on large flat screen televisions.

"It was totally our decision. It was always a pilot program. People were enthusiastic about it," explained Stewart about the response. "Operating the equipment in a bar environment was cumbersome so we pulled it back. We may find that it may have actually increased handle in the (two Chesapeake) parlors. We'll keep thinking about it."