03/02/2016 5:14PM

Hettel resigns as head of Virginia Racing Commission


Bernard “Bernie” Hettel, a longtime racing official who has headed the Virginia Racing Commission since 2011, has resigned from his position as executive secretary and will step down at a later date, the racing commission announced on Wednesday.

Hettel said in a statement distributed by the commission that he would be moving to Kentucky, where he has “business and family interests.” Hettel had previously served as Kentucky’s chief state steward and the executive director of Kentucky’s racing commission.

Virginia’s racing industry has been devastated over the past two years by a dispute between the owners of the state’s one Thoroughbred racetrack, Colonial Downs, and the state’s horsemen’s group. The two sides clashed over the number of live racing dates at the track, leading to a decision by Colonial’s owners to forfeit the track’s racing license at the end of 2014. No live racing has taken place at the track since 2013.

Hettel has attempted to mediate the dispute over the past several years, but the two sides have remained far apart. Last year, a coalition of the state’s horsemen’s groups organized a handful of live racing dates at rural sites in Virginia as well as a card at Laurel Park in Maryland. The coalition, called the Virginia Equine Alliance, is attempting to expand the number of live race dates this year, as well as pursue the opening of off-track betting locations, under legislation passed last year that is favorable to the alliance.

“Virginia racing has come through a difficult period, but I believe it is now positioned to realize new growth,” Hettel said in a statement. “So, while I will miss being involved on a daily basis, I am confident the timing of this decision is correct. The industry is organized, enjoys the support of state government, and has sustainable revenues in place.”

The Virginia Racing Commission said it would conduct a national search to find a replacement for Hettel.