Virginia Racing Legislation Clears Another Hurdle

Broad-based legislation on racing issues passed the House of Delegates General Laws Committee Feb. 28 after two sets of amendments were discussed. The bill patroned by Sen. Kenneth Stolle passed with a 16-3 vote late in the afternoon.

"We have taken the first steps toward viable racing in Virginia," Stolle said. "At one time, the General Assembly had to micro-manage the industry -- that's not the case anymore."

Stolle credited the horse racing industry for arriving at a consensus on issues.

The committee approved amendments to the bill that limit licensees to six off-track wagering facilities and eliminate towns as jurisdictions that could hold referenda on off-track wagering. The bill delegates authority to the Virginia Racing Commission on several issues such as mandatory racing days, account wagering, and provisional licensing.

The bill reflects the recommendations of the blue-ribbon committee and the code revision committee of the racing commission. The Senate bill is expected to go before the full house March 4 or March 5. The General Assembly session ends March 9. The state Senate, which passed the initial bill 27-12, is expected to approve the scaled-down versions of bill.

"We asked for the moon and stars, and we got the moon," said Robin Williams, chairwoman of the racing commission. "This bill says that Virginia is open for the business of horse racing. The blue-ribbon study committee made good recommendations, and we have worked hard to educate the members of the legislature about the value of the industry and they were receptive to these proposals."

In other news, the Richmond Times-Dispatch on Feb. 27 reported that Meadow Farm, the birthplace of Secretariat, is being considered as a potential site for the Virginia State Fair. While Colonial Downs has not been a leading choice for the future home of the State Fair, it also has never been completely dismissed.

"For years we've talked about bringing the fair to the races," said Debbie Easter, president of the Virginia Thoroughbred Association. "Now, I guess we may have to bring the races to the fair."

The state fair is operated by the Atlantic Rural Exposition. The state fair began its search for a new site when it sold its current site to Richmond International Raceway in 1999. The fair has an agreement with the Raceway to use the site until 2006.