Virginia Racing Bill Clears House of Delegates

While many Virginia horsemen were digging out from the President's Day weekend snowstorm, a bill to rework the Virginia Racing Act cleared the floor of the House of Delegates by a 54-42 vote.

The bill now goes to the desk of the Gov. Mark Warner, who is expected to sign it into law. A similar broad-based bill died on the House floor last year by one vote.

With the bill's passage, the Virginia Racing Act will be amended to allow the Virginia Racing Commission to regulate account wagering, provisional licensing, and the number of live racing days at Colonial Downs. It also makes towns with a population of 5,000 or larger eligible to conduct a referendum to operate satellite-wagering centers.

There are nineteen towns in Virginia with a population of more than 5,000. The 2003 edition of the bill did not include expansion of the number of wagering centers, which may have been the lightning rod in 2002. Currently in Virginia, six wagering centers are permitted. Colonial Downs operates four satellite-wagering centers.

"Thing came together, but everyone behind the bill worked very hard," said Robin Williams, who chairs the racing commission. "We went one by one to educate delegates about account wagering. Non-regulated account wagering is draining this money out of Virginia."

While estimates are difficult to pinpoint, account wagering is expected to add $15 million in handle to Virginia racing. At current daily average purse levels ($200,000), five more days of live racing could be added to Colonial's summer meet. Under that estimate, account wagering would generate an additional $400,000 in state and local taxes.

News of the bill's passage came as horsemen tried to dig out from the snowstorm. Especially hard-hit was northern Virginia, where as much as three feet of snow fell.

A hay barn collapsed under the weight of snow at Long Branch Farm in Millwood. Farm manager Ann Leer had to accept a delivery of hay on the side of the road Feb. 18. Long Branch is the home of retired Thoroughbreds.

"They play in it now, but during the storm it was pretty miserable," Robin Richards said of her Thoroughbreds at Goshen Farm in Millwood.

"I broke a sweat just walking to the barn," said Mark Deane, field director of the Virginia Thoroughbred Association. "Opening the barn door was a major project. It makes you appreciate 'no-snow.' When this stuff melts, I'll have a lot of work to do."