Push for OTB Expansion Underway in Virginia

Signatures are being gathered in the town of Vinton, Virginia to place a referendum on the November ballot for what could be Virginia's first off-track betting center outside of southeastern Virginia. Colonial Downs currently operates four wagering centers in the Commonwealth, all east and south of Richmond, Virginia.

"Things appear to be going well," said Town administrator Clay Goodman of the response for the racing center received since news of the proposed facility first appeared in The Roanoke Times on Wednesday. "The calls we've received so far have been by residents asking where they could sign the petition."

The referendum is the only town election item on the ballot. The urban town is virtually "built out," which limits its economic growth potential. Vinton's population density of 2,453 per square mile is one of the largest of any town in southwestern Virginia. Vinton is located in Roanoke County, adjacent the City of Roanoke. The Roanoke MSA is the 4th largest in Virginia and located three hours from Colonial's nearest off-track wagering facility in Richmond. Roanoke city voters failed to pass a referendum to allow off-track wagering in 1997.

Colonial Downs officials have told town officials that the facility could generate approximately $190,000 in tax revenue, create 50 jobs and make a economic impact of over $1.3 million per year. Vinton's annual budget is $5.3 million.

At the monthly Virginia Racing Commission meeting Wednesday, officials of Colonial Downs estimated that the facility would generate annually between $30 to $35 million in handle. Passing of the referendum generates purse money that would expand Colonial's live meet.

Another wagering center is now under construction in the southern portion of the city of Richmond. The commission granted approval of what will be Richmond's second racing center July 12. Colonial officials hope to have the racing center open in mid-October prior to the Breeder's Cup.

Commissioners also were pleased to hear the final reports of Colonial's summer meet made by commission staff and racing officials. Handle and attendance numbers were up in most categories with Virginia Derby Day setting a single-day handle record of $2,473,385.

The average field size during Colonial's meet was 9.91, well above the national average of 8.3. With the soggy summer in Virginia and Colonial's objective to offer more variety of racing on the dirt, the percentage of turf races dropped from 91% in 2002 to 80% in 2003.

"When all the stakeholders in the industry come together, we can accomplish great things," said Robin Williams who chairs the commission.

The dirt track at Colonial Downs has been converted for the harness racing meet that begins October 3.