Colonial Downs, Virginia Horsemen Have Contract

The Virginia Racing Commission on Feb. 20 approved a contract between Colonial Downs and the Virginia Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, and also discussed a decline in handle at off-track wagering facilities in the state.

The horsemen's contract addresses funding of purses, the selling of Colonial Downs' signal, satellite-wagering facility expansion, and improvements to the backstretch at Colonial Downs. Backstretch improvements will consist of upgrading the electrical plant so air-conditioning can be added to dormitories. Other backstretch programs and improvements include implementing the Groom-Elite Program.

"Convenience for the horseman's help is important," said John Mooney, general manager at Colonial Downs and president of the Maryland-Virginia Racing Circuit.

As for handle, Stan Bowker, executive director of the racing commission, said it had increased each year since 1997, the year Colonial Downs opened. "This year we've seen a decline," he said. "It's important to us because it affects the
revenue streams."

At the beginning of the year, Colonial Downs switched totalizator companies, and the transition presented some difficulties throughout the month of January. The transition is one factor that may be attributed to the decline in handle in January.

"A significant cause of the lower handle could be the loss of regular patrons to account wagering," Mooney said. "There has been widespread soliciting of account wagering from out-of-state in our market."

Colonial Downs ran a promotion offering free Daily Racing Forms over the weekend to recognize the sixth anniversary of the opening of the Chesapeake Racing Center, the first off-track wagering facility in Virginia.

"It was heart-breaking to see some of our old customers pick up a free Daily Racing Form and go home to wager," Mooney said.

Robin Williams, who chairs the racing commission, said a broad racing bill would go before a House subcommittee Feb. 21. The bill increases the number of off-track racing centers, transfers certain authority from the General Assembly to the commission, and calls for account wagering. The Virginia Senate approved the bill in January. The full House committee is expected to discuss it Feb. 26.

In other business, Jim Weinberg, counsel for Colonial Downs, said the plan to privatize Colonial Downs should be completed by Feb. 22. Jacobs Entertainment is expected to replace GameCo as the sole shareholder of Colonial Holdings.