Voters in two Virginia localities — including one linked to the proposed Bristol Resort and Casino — approved referenda Tuesday to allow off-track pari-mutuel wagering in their communities.
Danville voters narrowly approved a referendum for pari-mutuel wagering within the city limits. The final tally was 51.8% of voters, or 5,083, who favored the change compared to 48.1%, or 4,717, who opposed it, according to the state Department of Elections.
The margin of support was even wider in the town of Dumfries in Prince William County on Tuesday. The town of about 5,200 residents approved a similar pari-mutuel referendum on Tuesday, with 60.4% — 467 voters — in favor of the proposal and 39.5%, or 306, opposed.
Danville and the city of Portsmouth were part of 2019 state legislation — filed on behalf of developers of the proposed Bristol casino — to permit casino gaming in Virginia cities in economic distress, if approved by public referenda. A compromise version of that bill was approved by state lawmakers in March, but implementation is predicated on the outcome of a study by the Virginia Judicial Audit and Review Commission on the potential impact of gaming and its regulation.
Danville City Manager Ken Larking said the city hasn’t yet received a specific proposal from Colonial Downs Group for a Rosie’s location, but the city remains interested in pursuing a casino.
“Last year, the City Council voted unanimously to request that the General Assembly allow the citizens of Danville to vote on allowing class 3 casino gaming. This continues to be the position of the city of Danville, regardless of whether a Rosie’s opens here,” Larking wrote in an email. “It is our expectation that, should referendums be allowed in Virginia, Danville would be afforded an opportunity to have a vote. We have received a lot of interest from national casino operators who wish to do business in Danville.”
Developers of the proposed Bristol Resort and Casino had no comment on Tuesday’s votes.
In both cases, Tuesday’s referenda were supported by the Colonial Downs Group, which operates a series of Rosie’s Gaming Emporiums across the state. Rosie’s offers a casinolike experience with blinking electronic games and off-track wagering on simulcast horse races. These approvals will allow developers to work with each community to establish a Rosie’s location there.
“Colonial Downs Group is extremely pleased the voters of both Danville and Dumfries have elected to pass pari-mutuel wagering,” group spokesman Mark Hubbard said in a written statement. “Virginians clearly know that pari-mutuel wagering is bringing over 1,000 good paying jobs and millions in new tax revenue to the Commonwealth and they are excited about it. We now look forward to moving forward in our conversations with both localities and to creating economic development.”
In addition to the Colonial Downs track, Rosie’s operates four gaming centers in New Kent, Vinton, Richmond and the recently opened facility in Hampton. Patrons play on slot machine-style consoles that are based on the results of historic horse racing. These games were approved by the state in 2017, and CDG presently operates 2,150 of the machines.
New Kent opened in April, Vinton opened in May, Richmond opened in late June and Hampton just opened Oct. 29. Last week, the Colonial Downs Group issued a report detailing its financial impact in the first six months of operations in 2019.
To date, Colonial Downs Group has generated more than 1,000 jobs at the four sites; $5.91 million in state tax revenue; $2.73 million in taxes for New Kent County; $301,000 in taxes to the town of Vinton; $738,000 in taxes for the city of Richmond; and $674 million in total prizes to players, including $17.6 million in pari-mutuel prizes, according to the statement.
“We are extremely grateful to our patrons who have embraced what we are offering and helped us keep our commitment. The results are exceeding expectations and we look forward to continued growth, opportunity and economic development,” Aaron Gomes, chief operating officer of Colonial Downs Group, said in a written statement.