04/10/2015 10:06AM

Virginia horsemen claim Colonial Downs owes them $420,000


The Virginia Racing Commission expects to conduct a hearing in early May to determine whether Colonial Downs is in violation of the state’s racing law by retaining all of the revenue from its account-wagering operation for nearly a five-month period beginning late last year, according to officials with the commission.

The commission met on Wednesday to discuss the dispute, the latest to arise in a yearlong battle between Colonial Downs and the state’s horsemen. Horsemen contend that they are owed approximately $420,000 from the account-wagering revenue retained by Colonial from last November through March, according to Bernie Hettel, the executive director of the Virginia Racing Commission, while Colonial contends that it owes the horsemen nothing because the two sides lack a live-racing contract.

Hettel said he has been in touch with the state’s attorney general over the scheduling of a hearing to discuss the matter. The hearing likely will be scheduled for the first week in May, Hettel said, following the issuance of a 15-day notice to the sides to appear.

In most states, the division of revenue from betting is set by statute. Virginia also has those statutes, Hettel said, but he called the issue “complicated” by a number of other interpretations of the law. Because of those complications, Hettel said, he expects the losing side to pursue relief in the courts.

“It’s almost certain that there will be legal action from one side or the other, depending on how this shakes out,” Hettel said.

Earlier this week, Colonial abruptly shuttered its account-wagering operation, EZ Horseplay, in protest of horsemen’s support of an amendment attached to legislation that was designed to create better conditions for live racing to return to the state. Colonial and Virginia’s horsemen had earlier banded together to support the legislation, but the partnership frayed when Colonial said it was no longer interested in operating a 2015 meet and negotiations on a horsemen’s lease of its operating assets broke down.

The dispute stretches back to last year, when Colonial and Thoroughbred horsemen dug in their heels over the proper length of the 2014 meet. The two sides failed to reach an agreement, and the meet was canceled. Colonial surrendered its racing license at the end of the year.