By Cindy Laraway
6:59 PM EDT, May 7, 2014
NEW KENT — The Virginia Racing Commission turned up the heat Wednesday when it requested Colonial Downs hold 25 days of racing during five weeks this summer.
The commission expects a contract between Colonial Downs and the Virginia Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association (HBPA) to be delivered to them at their next meeting May 19.
The impasse that seemed likely to cancel the 2014 thoroughbred season at Colonial Downs resulted when the parties failed to reach an agreement in April over the length of the race season after multiple rounds of negotiations. Colonial Downs' contract with the horsemen's association expired Jan. 29.
“Quite frankly, it's time for the talking to stop and it's time for action,” Virginia Racing Commission Chairman J. Sargeant Reynolds said.
The role of the commission is to promote and grow racing in Virginia, and control betting, according to its website.
Wagers made at off-track betting (OTB) sites from Feb. 1 to May 4 in 2013 totaled $17 million, which included revenue from thoroughbred and harness racing wagers. Since the contract expired, and thoroughbred wagers could not be made, revenue loss is projected to be $622,000.
That revenue is shared by not only the operator of the facility and the purse account, but portions also go to the Racing Commission, Breeder's Fund, localities, Virginia Tech College of Veterinary Medicine, and other boards and foundations supporting Virginia horse racing.
Colonial Downs President Ian Stewart said that the track is down $1.5 million from its operating plan.
“Due to the loss of operating funds, returning to the status quo is not possible unless HBPA is prepared to reimburse Colonial Downs for the loss,” Stewart said. “People have lost jobs.”
Frank Petramalo Jr., executive director of the horsemen's association, said that during negotiations, there had been some willingness to compromise. Colonial Downs' previous contract was for 25 days of racing over five weeks. Colonial Downs initially agreed to 28 days of racing over seven weeks proposed by the HBPA.
But Colonial Downs asked for $300,000 toward the added racing days and HBPA only agreed to $280,000. Colonial Downs did not accept that offer, according to Petramalo Jr.
Another roadblock to reaching a workable compromise came when Colonial Downs wanted an option to use a third of the purse account for reimbursement of the $1.5-million loss.
“My board won't agree to using purse money that way,” Petramalo Jr. said. “... We're not happy with five weeks and 25 days, but we will run those days and we will cooperate.”
Stewart said, “It's admirable that they appear to realize the futility of their destructive actions.”
Stewart stressed that even with 25 days of racing, operating at a cash-flow loss is not an option.
The commission cannot force either side to sign an agreement, but can mandate other action. If the two sides do not sign a contract by May 19, Colonial Downs could lose its license to run OTBs.
The track has several off-site betting locations, including one in Hampton, which has remained open for wagers on harness racing. Four sites in southwest Virginia have closed.
Karen Godsey is a horse trainer who counts on racing at Colonial Downs and is feeling the impact of the stalled season, which typically includes two high-purse races.
“If we don't have racing this year, I'll have to send 15 of my horses out of state. People lose jobs,” she said.
“To go dark and not have live racing invites disaster,” said Virginia Racing Commissioner vice-chair D.G. Van Clief.
Copyright © 2015, Tidewater Review