The Virginia Racing Commission may take a more active role in regulating horse racing if the recommendations of a blue-ribbon committee are implemented. The panel suggests a need for more off-track wagering facilities, elimination of a law that mandates 150 live racing dates by 2006, and addition of account wagering.At a racing commission meeting Wednesday, James Falk made a presentation on behalf of the committee, a task force comprised of representatives of the racing industry and "non-horse" business leaders. The committee had studied the status of the Virginia racing over the last seven months. "...Our panel is unanimous in its belief that while today, the status quo is not satisfactory to any segment of the industry, relatively modest legislative changes can create the climate for future growth of the equine agribusiness industry and enhance its contribution to the economy of the commonwealth," said Falk, who read from a prepared statement. "We believe that Virginia is a significant market currently burdened with severe restrictions to significant new entry, and that the barriers to new entry need to modified by the legislature."Eight recommendations were presented to the racing commission, whose chairman, Robin Williams, said a code revision committee supported most of the findings. "I have found that when all the stakeholders get together and go to the legislature, we can get things done," Williams said.A key recommendation is to eliminate the mandate for 150 days of live racing by 2006 in favor of allowing the number of racing days to be set by the commission according to a three- to ive-year action plan developed by each license-holder. Colonial Downs has the only Class A racing license in Virginia.The committee recommended raising the number of satellite wagering facilities to 16. Should another license be awarded, the number of satellite wagering facilties would be set by the commission. A Class A licensee is permitted six off-track sites; Colonial Downs currently operates four.The committee also recommended adding towns to the jurisdictions eligible for referenda on satellite wagering, and allowing the commission to issue provisional licenses subject to the passage of a referendum. Currently, satellite wagering facilities can only be considered in counties and cities, and a referendum must be passed prior to commission approval.It is vague in Virginia whether account wagering is legal or not, but it is certainly unregulated. Under the committee's recommendation, the commission would "regulate advance-deposit account wagering for the benefit of horse racing and breeding within the commonwealth."The committee is against the concept of alternative gaming such as slot machines, which are illegal in Virginia.The committee recommended the racing commission be authorized to allocate administrative surplus funds for the marketing and promotion of horse racing and breeding. The racing industry generates funds that are allocated for the commission's administration. Those surpluses are currently returned to the Virginia's general fund.Hoping to build on the popularity and well-established steeplechase event in Virginia, the committee recommended the development of new and different business plans for live horse racing, including county fair and extended turf racing.
Finally, the committee encouraged the commission to examine the amount and distribution of pari-mutuel takeout to ensure Virginia is competitive with other major racing states.In other matters, Lane Kneedler, counsel for the Maryland Jockey Club with respect to Virginia-related issues, said progress had been made on negotiations for a Thoroughbred contract. A bridge contract expires Feb. 20, the date of a racing commission meeting.Kneedler said he hopes a five-year agreement wil be finalized. The MJC has a deal by which it oversees live racing operations at Colonial Downs under the Maryland-Virginia Racing Circuit.The plan to privatize Colonial Downs has moved forward. The proxy statement was mailed to shareholders Dec. 10, and shareholders have until Jan. 10 to cast votes on the merger agreement.Earnest Oare, a longtime member of the Virginia Racing Commission, announced that he wished not to be reappointed to the commission. Oare said he'd like to race horses in Virginia, which is currently not allowed by members of the commission.