Virginia OKs Parlors in Four of Five Communities

Referendums on off-track betting passed in four of five Virginia communities Nov. 2. Should the facilities all be licensed, Colonial Downs would have 10 OTB parlors, the maximum allowed by law.

Voters approved ballot measures in Scott County (near Bristol), Greene County (near Charlottesville), Henry County (near Martinsville), and Westmoreland County (Northern Neck), all of which are located in the southern part of the state. A measure in Manassas Park in northern Virginia was defeated.

Colonial Downs currently operates six OTB parlors. The newest one, in Vinton near Roanoke, was approved by voters in 2003 and opened in September.

The last year Colonial Downs sought voter approval for multiple parlors was 1997, when three ballots measures were soundly defeated.

The four parlors are expected to generate $105 million in handle, more than $582,000 in local tax revenue, and create 200 jobs. Colonial Downs is expected to invest $5.6 million in the off-track betting expansion.

The approval in Westmoreland County allows an off-track betting parlor to be opened in that locality for the first time under Virginia law. Previously, a Maryland parlor called "The Riverboat" operated just off the Virginia shore along a pier that extends into the Potomac River. Hurricane Isabel destroyed the Riverboat OTB in 2003.

"It shows the effort that Colonial is making to grow the Thoroughbred industry in the state," Virginia Thoroughbred Association president Debbie Easter said. "It's great for the horse industry. It enables the growth of more racing days in the future, but it also trickles down through the rest of the horse industry, not just Thoroughbreds."

Eighty-four votes in Manassas Park prevented a sweep of all five ballot measures. An OTB parlor in northern Virginia, which is the Old Dominion's largest metropolitan area, was forecast to generate the same amount of handle and tax revenue almost equal to the other four parlors: $90 million in handle and $560,000 in tax revenue.

"We were extremely well-endorsed by the rest of the state," Colonial Downs senior vice president Jerry Monahan said. "If anything, it's a tremendous economic loss in Manassas Park. (The OTB parlors) will make a positive impact on the Virginia horse industry. It shows Virginia's uniqueness to the nation. It's a work in progress, and Colonial Downs and the horsemen's groups will continue to build the business."

Monahan said he hoped the approved parlors would be open by 2006, with a few in 2005. He said it's "too early" to seek alternatives in northern Virginia.

Chris Bridge, campaign director for Colonial Downs, said the results were reflective of the initial polling performed and that the approvals were a "tremendous demonstration" of the partnership between Colonial Downs, the Virginia Thoroughbred Association, and the Virginia Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association.