02/12/2015 11:01AM

Track, horsemen join in attempt to resurrect Virginia racing


Colonial Downs in New Kent, Va., and a consortium of the state’s breeding and racing organizations have joined together to push a bill through the state legislature that would reallocate revenue from account wagering in the state and potentially lead to the re-establishment of live racing, according to the groups.

Bills outlining the reallocation have easily passed separately in the state House and Senate. Although the bills are nearly identical, each bill now must be sent to the opposite chamber for deliberation. The bills likely will be taken up next week, according to officials.

The legislation is offering a glimmer of hope for Virginia racing interests after a year in which horsemen and Colonial Downs fought bitterly over the track’s plan to shorten its race meet, resulting in the cancellation of the track’s 2014 season. By the end of the year, Colonial had forfeited its racing license, its offtrack betting parlors had been shut down, and horsemen had cut off talks with track management.

But over the winter, Virginia horsemen’s and breeding organizations representing both Standardbred and Thoroughbred interests banded together as the Virginia Equine Alliance to search for common ground with the track. That organization includes the Virginia Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, which had led the opposition to Colonial’s plan to dramatically pare its live race meet.

According to a letter sent out this week to members of the alliance, Colonial and the group reached an agreement on a new formula for allocating revenue from account wagering that “puts Virginia racing in a much stronger position.”

The letter states: “Colonial Downs may continue to offer live racing, the OTBs will reopen with funds once again directed to purses and the breeders, the horsemen’s groups will not be sidelined by Colonial Downs management, and most importantly, for the first time, funds will be available to develop racing sites outside of New Kent.”

Officials of the alliance declined to comment on the impact of the legislation, citing the sensitivity of the issues.

Under the bill, 5 percent of wagers placed with out-of-state account-wagering companies such as twinspires.com, TVG, and XpressBet would be allocated to the purse account. Another 4 percent would go to the alliance, which would use the money to support live racing operations in the state. Another 1.5 percent would go to the Virginia Racing Commission, and 1 percent would go to the state’s breeders.

Currently, out-of-state account-wagering companies pay 5 percent to horsemen and 5 percent to Colonial Downs. Another 1 percent goes to breeders and 0.5 percent to the commission.

Revenue from bets made through Colonial Downs’s account-wagering company, EZHorseplay, would continue to be allocated using the existing formula, the letter states.