Packed House Greets Opening of Virginia Parlor

Colonial Downs usually holds grand openings for new satellite-wagering centers on a slow day of the week so newly trained employees aren't overwhelmed with large crowds.

But on Monday, Oct. 11, more than 900 customers turned out, some of which waited hours for the doors to open, for the so-called "slow opening" of a the new off-track wagering facility in Vinton, not far from Roanoke. Having to deal with a standing-room-only crowd in the afternoon didn't disappoint Colonial officials.

"We had a very good grand opening", said John Mooney, general manager of Colonial Downs and president of the Maryland/Virginia Racing Circuit. "This is obviously a desired market and there is demand for it. This provides a tremendous convenience for our patrons."

The 14,600-square-foot facility employs about 60 full- and part-time employees and is still accepting applications. Mooney had hoped the opening of the OTB parlor could take place earlier in the year, but he said he's pleased it opened prior to the Oct. 30 Breeder's Cup World Thoroughbred Championships. Vinton voters approved an off-track betting referendum in November 2003.

The Vinton facility is the sixth Colonial Downs satellite-wagering center in Virginia and the first located outside of the southeast quadrant of the state. In the past, area horseplayers in the southwestern part of the state would either make the three-hour trip to the OTB parlor in Richmond, or venture out of state to Charles Town Races & Slots in West Virginia.

"It will help keep dollars in the state of Virginia to grow purses," Mooney said. "It will certainly help in that regard."

Mooney may be hoping the opening of other facilities becomes routine. Questions are on the November ballots in five Virginia communities: Scott County (near Bristol), Greene County (near Charlottesville), Henry County (Martinsville), Westmoreland County (Northern Neck), and Manassas Park (Northern Virginia).

Those localities are also outside the southeastern quadrant of Virginia. The Vinton opening allows interested parties in Scott County and Henry County a nearby example of what their facility may look like should their voters approve a referendum.

"I think those who have a desire to go visit will certainly find an impressive facility that is doing well right off the bat," Mooney said.

"We've had a nice, steady crowd," said Diane Eisel, site manager at Vinton. "People have been coming in, checking it out, and coming back with friends. It has been busy. We have patrons we can already call regulars."

Many of the patrons were disappointed to find out they couldn't watch and wager on Belmont Park races. The New York Racing Association and the MidAtlantic Cooperative, which includes Colonial, are in the midst of a dispute.

"It's definitely having a negative effect," Mooney said. "People prefer the Belmont signal to tracks of lesser quality. Belmont has the best racing in the fall."