Horse race wagering bill heads to Northam's desk

Legislation that would make a new form of betting legal in Virginia and could help pave a path to allow a new owner to reopen Colonial Downs heads to Gov. Ralph Northam’s desk.

Del. Michael Webert, R-Marshall, proposed a bill would allow slot-like machines to be used to bet on historical horse races — previously contested races that generate winning numbers on the machine.The bill passed the Senate 31-9 on Feb. 28 after it was heard by the Senate Finance Committee on Feb. 27. It passed the House of Delegates 79-21 on Feb. 13.

If signed by Northam, the bill would go into effect July 1.

Language to legalize historical horse racing was originally in former Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s last budget proposal. House Speaker Kirk Cox, R-Colonial Heights, then suggested the proposal be filed as legislation.

Colonial Downs closed its doors more than three years ago after track owners and the state’s horse industry could not reach an agreement on a steady racing schedule.

Jacobs Entertainment owner Jeffery Jacobs — who owns Colonial Downs — surrendered his operating license and announced the track would close at a October 2014 Virginia Racing Commission meeting.

Horse racing operations company Revolutionary Racing, based in Chicago, has expressed interest in buying Colonial Downs from Jacobs Entertainment and reopening the facility for historical horse race betting, New Kent Economic Development Director Matthew Smolnik said.

According to a study prepared by Chmura Economics and Analytics and paid for by Revolutionary Racing, revitalizing Colonial Downs could bring $349.1 million and 1,407 jobs to Virginia by 2022. Projections include revenue from historical horse racing, off-track betting, advance-deposit wagering and horse racing events.

Revolutionary Racing spokesman Mark Hubbard said they have been pleased with the support and attention they’ve received from the Virginia General Assembly.

“We are very excited to possibly be reviving Colonial Downs and helping Virginia’s horse industry come back into its own,” Hubbard said. “Revolutionary Racing has been very pleased with the process and progress at the General Assembly and looks forward to having horse racing return.”

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