Colonial Downs

Nate Mize, a director of marketing at Colonial Downs Group, demonstrates games on a historical horse racing machine at Colonial Downs in New Kent on Monday, March 25, 2019.

Danville could get a satellite horse race betting facility.

Colonial Downs Group, which owns the Colonial Downs horse racetrack in New Kent County, has submitted paperwork in Danville to bring a voter referendum to allow off-track, pari-mutuel betting at a satellite facility in Danville.

Local resident Trina McLaughlin submitted the paperwork with the Danville Circuit Court Clerk’s Office on Thursday.

“The project sounds entertaining and fun, but most importantly brings good jobs and tax revenue that would help schools,” McLaughlin, who ran for City Council in 2016 and manages the basketball cheerleading squad at George Washington High School, told the Danville Register & Bee. She heard about the project through a friend working with representatives of Colonial Downs Group and offered to submit the legal documents.

Backers of the proposal hope to bring a referendum before Danville voters in November.

Colonial Downs Group intends for the Danville satellite site to be a Rosie’s Gaming Emporium, a gaming facility with sites throughout Virginia. An announcement about a preferred site is expected to be made during the referendum campaign, company spokesman Mark Hubbard said.

If voters were to approve pari-mutuel betting in the city and a site were located here, the project is estimated to bring about 150-200 jobs with an average annual salary of $40,000 plus benefits, Hubbard said.

Ask why the company was eyeing Danville, Hubbard noted that city officials have “expressed an interest in what Colonial Downs is offering and because it could attract customers from North Carolina.

“We believe there is an appetite for this in Danville,” Hubbard said.

The interest comes as the state is researching the possibility of casinos operating in Danville, Bristol and Portsmouth. First, there would have to be a referendum allowing casinos in those cities, but such a legal maneuver would not come until after the Virginia General Assembly has studied casino gaming regulations, with a report submitted by Dec. 1.

Mayor Alonzo Jones said he would need more information about pari-mutuel betting before deciding how he would vote on a referendum. However, the city’s schools need improvements and Danville could use funding for upgrades, he said.

“We feel we have many unmet needs,” Jones said. “Our schools are aging and have major capital improvement needs. I feel it’s very important that the citizens of Danville have an opportunity to vote on this concept to determine if it’s right for our community.”

What Colonial Downs is proposing for Danville is different from a casino, which has card games like blackjack and poker with players betting against the house.

Historical horse racing is a form of pari-mutuel wagering where players are in a betting pool with each other with a portion going to the establishment, Hubbard said.

Pari-mutuel wagering involves betting on horse or greyhound racing, with betting taking place through pools. Those holding winning tickets divide the total amount bet in proportion to their wagers.

If built in Danville, Rosie’s Gaming Emporium would include two types of betting — historic horse racing involving simulated, video game-like horse races in which players bet on a chosen horse, and satellite betting on real-life horse races taking place elsewhere.

The simulated racing includes slots-like machines in which players can choose a horse based on win statistics or have the game choose a horse for them, Hubbard said. The game system has an archive of 90,000 previously-ran horse races.

Vice Mayor Lee Vogler said he plans on voting yes if a referendum on pari-mutuel betting comes to Danville.

“The opportunity to bring people and revenue to Danville from outside of our area would be a great benefit to our city,” Vogler said. “The ownership group at Colonial Downs has a great track record of creating world-class entertainment venues not just here in Virginia, but around the country.”

A Rosie’s Gaming Emporium would provide jobs and needed revenue for city services such as public safety and education, Vogler added.

“I believe our citizens should have the opportunity to vote on that,” he said.

According to Virginia law, localities that have not already approved pari-mutuel wagering require a voter referendum before such a facility can come to their community.

Placing a referendum on the ballot requires signatures from at least 5 percent of the city’s qualified voters. Those signatures must be submitted to and certified by the general registrar. The local circuit court then officially decrees that it will appear on the ballot.

Upon court approval of the petition filed Thursday, Colonial Downs plans to coordinate a signature drive in Danville.

Colonial Downs Group opened its first Rosie’s Gaming Emporium at Colonial Downs in April and its second Rosie’s in Vinton in May.

The next Rosie’s will open in Richmond in June.

Another one is under construction in Hampton with a planned opening in the fall. Each Rosie’s also features simulcast horseracing, a restaurant, bar and gift shop.

Colonial Downs Group is investing $300 million in the commonwealth, with plans to create 800 new jobs by the end of the year.

Backers hope the satellite betting sites across the state will generate a combined $25 million annually in state tax revenues, $17 million annually in local tax revenues and $25 million annually to Virginia’s horse industry.

The project is not receiving any tax credits or government incentives, the company stated in its news release.

John Crane reports for the Danville Register & Bee. Contact him at jcrane@registerbee.com or (434) 791-7987.

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