Virginia Governor Signs Legislation That Could See Colonial Downs Back in Business

Colonial Downs racetrack looks likely to reopen after the signing of a bill to allow betting machines.

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam has signed a bill into law that will allow wagering on historical horse races at the currently shuttered Colonial Downs racetrack.

A bill sponsored by Delegate Michael Webert was created in the hope of seeing the Colonial Downs racetrack reopen in New Kent County by upgrading what can be offered on-site in regard to gaming. The bill permits the owner of the property to provide gaming machines that run archived video footage of historical races.

With the passage of the bill this week, Governor Northam decided to issue an executive directive. Within this directive, the Virginia Racing Commission has to develop regulations that will carry out the law and ensure that they place ‘reasonable limitations on the proliferation of gaming’ in the state. The Governor’s goal is to see the legislation revive the horse racing industry and bring thoroughbred racing back to the state.

Colonial Downs closure

The Colonial Downs racetrack had operated successfully for 17 years before it was closed down in 2014. The current owner of the facility, Jeff Jacobs of Jacobs Entertainment, decided to surrender his license of operation to the Commission when a dispute began with the traditional horsemen’s group of Virginia.

The prospective buyer of the property is Chicago-based Revolutionary Racing. With the new betting option now available to the venue, the new owner would have a money maker from the very beginning. It has been estimated that reopening the venue in 2019 would generate more than $203m (€164m) in direct operating revenues through the year 2022. This would include around $162m (€130m) that has been projected for the historical horse racing wagers.

Chmura Economics & Analytics conducted a study to determine the figures. The study also estimates that over 400 jobs will be created in the revitalization of the Colonial Downs property. Overall, the horse racing industry is expected to generate around $18m (€14.5m) annually for the state, if the venue reopens.

Virginia Equine Alliance president, Debbie Easter, stated that the legislation to allow the new gaming options at Colonial Downs was started based on a plan first released late last year. Mrs. Easter said: “We thank the governor and the Virginia General Assembly for recognizing the many horsemen and contributions they make in Virginia as well as the importance of our industry and the value it brings to local and regional economies for the state.”

Expected impact

According to the Chmura Economics & Analytics study, if Colonial Downs is successful in its revitalization efforts, the state economy would be impacted by $349.1m (€282m) in generated revenues. Over 1,400 jobs would be added by 2022, once the operation has reached full capacity. Annual tax revenues are expected to reach over $26m (€21m) for the state government with additional tax revenues provided for New Kent County and other areas.

The Colonial Downs economic impact will be derived from two sources according to the study;  the operations of the facility and visitor spending. Once at full capacity, Colonial Downs is expected to host 25 annual horse races plus a steeplechase event. The property will employ hundreds of individuals, which will further benefit the state economy.

The study also estimates that the racing events and betting facilities will attract visitors to the region, which will bring in much-needed funds to the state via wagering. Visitor spending is also expected to increase within local businesses due to an increase in tourism to Colonial Downs.

Historical Horse Racing

The addition of historical horse racing brings a new element to Colonial Downs. This type of gaming uses technology to provide wagering options for gamblers. Video archives of horse races from the past are viewed via gaming terminals with players having the ability to wager on the outcome of the race. With the historical horse racing terminals, gamblers can wager at a much faster rate than they can with live horse races.

The terminals do not show the names of the horses, the date of the race, or the location until a wager has been locked in. This way, the player cannot research a past race to see the end result before placing their wager. The terminal will display the horse odds at the time that the race took place for players to review before making their wagering decision.

The new gaming machines will have to adhere to existing regulations for pari-mutuel wagering, plus any new rules created in the future. The new law goes into effect on July 1, with the racing committee having 180 days to make any new rule changes.