Virginia Pari-mutuel Bill Dies By One Vote

An attempt to regulate account wagering and expand off-track betting outlets in Virginia failed by a one-vote margin on Wednesday.

The House of Delegates voted down the bill twice in two days by narrow margins. On Tuesday, delegates defeated the senate bill by a 50-46 vote. A successful motion to reconsider put the measure before the full House again Wednesday when it failed again on a 47-46 squeaker. Virginia law prevents the bill from being considered again this session.

"I'm very disappointed that the legislature would refuse to allow any state regulation of account wagering," said Virginia Racing Commission chairman, Robin Williams, after the second vote. "The lesson of this whole thing is that we don't have people in the legislature who are educated about horse racing and know how it works."

Williams noted that on Wednesday, 35 delegates, over a third of the House, switched their vote from Tuesday. Thirteen delegates switched their votes from nay to yea. Fifteen delegates switched their vote from yea to nay. Seven delegates did not vote on the bill on Wednesday.

"It will be tough to come back next year because it is an election year," Williams said.

The bill would have also allowed for the expansion of the off-track wagering centers should another Class A licensee been awarded in Virginia. Currently, Colonial Downs is the only Class A licensee in Virginia and is allowed to operate up to six off-track wagering centers. Colonial operates Virginia's four off-track racing centers in Richmond, Hampton, Chesapeake and Alberta.

Speaker of the House Del. Vance Wilkens, a conservative, left his podium and took his seat on the floor Tuesday so he could speak against the bill, according to Williams. Rarely has Wilkens taken such action during his term as Speaker.

The House's action surprised many in the racing industry because the bill had passed by healthy margins in both Senate and House committees. Without the passage of the bill, account wagering in Virginia will remain unregulated.