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VRC: Revoking Colonial Downs' racing license is a last resort

NEW KENT — In its efforts to get a thoroughbred racing contract signed, the Virginia Racing Commission (VRC) will exercise its power to pull the track's racing license only as a last resort.

“Revoking the racetrack's license is the last possibility that we are contemplating,” VRC Executive Secretary Bernie Hettel said.

Hettel is hopeful that Colonial Downs and the Virginia Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association (VHBPA) will eventually come to a resolution and sign a 2015 thoroughbred season contract. Doing so would immediately reopen the four Off-Track Betting (OTB) facilities that were closed in January after the two parties refused to sign a 2014 thoroughbred season contract. It would also cancel the 2014 thoroughbred season, which would have normally started last month.

Colonial Downs has been in operation for 17 years and has three years left on its 20-year pari-mutuel wagering license.

In pari-mutuel betting, all bets of a particular type are placed together in a pool and payoff odds are calculated by sharing the pool among the winning bets.

The VRC was established in the early 1990s to promote and regulate horseracing in Virginia. The General Assembly granted the commission “broad and plenary power,” or power with absolute terms, Hettel explained.

Hettel said that should the two parties not come to an agreement, the VRC would consider a hearing to take action against the VHBPA and Colonial Downs.

“There could be some legal ramifications,” Hettel said.

Hettel added that the VRC would most likely take disciplinary action in steps, starting with fines, then the suspension of the racing license, and lastly, revoking the license.

According to Hettel, because Colonial Downs currently has a 2014 harness racing season contract for September and October with the Virginia Harness Horse Association, any action by the VRC wouldn't begin until late October after the harness season has ended.

Martin can be reached by phone at 804-885-0040.

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