02/28/2018 11:30AM

Committee approves bill to allow Colonial Downs to operate gambling machines


The Virginia Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday approved a bill that would allow the owner of Colonial Downs to operate devices closely resembling slot machines throughout the state, but not before attaching an amendment requiring that the legislation pass next year as well before becoming law.

With the 12-4 vote to approve the legislation, the bill is now headed to the Senate floor, which could take up the legislation as early as Wednesday afternoon, according to racing officials lobbying for the bill.

The legislation, which passed in the General Assembly earlier this month by a vote of 79-21 without the “re-enactment” amendment, would allow the owner of Colonial Downs to operate so-called historical horse racing machines at the racetrack and at as many as 10 offtrack betting locations. If passed, the legislation would amount to granting the owner of Colonial with a state-sanctioned monopoly on the machines.

The owner of Colonial Downs, Jacobs Entertainment, forfeited the track’s license in 2014 after failing to resolve a dispute with horsemen over the proper length of a race meet. Jacobs had long lobbied for legislation to operate slot machines, but met with consistent resistance from the legislature.

According to Virginia racing officials, Jacobs Entertainment has a deal to sell the track to a Chicago-based company calling itself Revolutionary Racing provided the legislation is passed. Revolutionary Racing is led by a former gambling lobbyist, Larry Lucas, and Prentice Salter. The company has previously attempted to market an application allowing players to bet on their mobile devices.

If the Senate were to pass the bill in the form approved by the Finance Committee, the bill would need to go through the reconciliation process before being passed. Racing lobbyists said that they intend to push the Senate to strike the amendment from the bill prior to a full vote.

Horsemen are rallying behind the bill under the belief that revenues from the machines will be used to prop up purses at a reopened Colonial Downs. The legislation does not specify the amount of machines that will be authorized, leaving that up to the state’s racing commission, which also supports the bill.

The Virginia Equine Alliance, an umbrella horsemen’s group formed after Colonial Downs closed that operates three OTBs in the state, has a “memorandum of understanding” with Revolutionary Racing to share in some of the revenues from the machines, according to its executive director, Jeb Hannum.

All forms of wagering other than the lottery and horse race betting are illegal under Virginia law. Historical horse racing machines have proved lucrative at tracks in Arkansas and Kentucky, generating millions of dollars annually for the track owners.