Virginia Legalizes Betting on ‘Historical Horse Races’

Children play with horses at Colonial Downs. Courthouse News photo by Brad Kutner.

RICHMOND, Va. (CN) — Thoroughbred horse racing will return to Virginia after a 4-year absence, with the legalization of “historical horse racing machines,” a form of digital gambling that in which bettors wager on old races.

“Horse racing in the Commonwealth is a tradition that goes back many years and you don’t have to go far to see where horses are raised and hopefully raced right here at Colonial Downs,” Governor Ralph Northam told a crowd Friday before signing the legislation.

Colonial Downs is 26 miles east of Richmond, the state capital. “It’s a good day for Virginia; we’re getting back on track to getting horse racing going again.”

Northam made little mention of the new “instant racing” machines, which play video feeds from old races and allow players to gamble on them. The details of the races — when, where and who the horses are — are not revealed until after all bets are placed.

Often compared to digital slot machines, this new gaming machine will be among the few forms of legal gambling allowed in Virginia.

Churchill Downs, home of the Kentucky Derby, is spending millions on the machines in hopes of boosting its revenue. Colonial Downs new owners, Chicago-based Revolutionary Racing, are counting on it, with internal estimates aiming for $162 million in revenue by 2022, many millions more than the live racing-only model used before.

Colonial Downs, opened in 1997, ran 2,300 Thoroughbreds during its inaugural season, but when it shut its doors in 2014, only a bit more than 300 graced the track. Efforts to draw crowds with later weekday start times and other events failed, and contract negotiations between racers, horse owners and track owners broke down as income streams dried up.

Revolutionary Racing bought Colonial Downs for about $20 million this year from Colorado-based Jacobs Entertainment. The deal relied on the state’s legalizing historic racing machines, which will soon be found at the track and at off-track betting locations throughout the state.

Colonial Downs’ board of directors estimated the first year of the new operations would  bring in $400,000 and help support 1,400 local jobs.

“I’m just humbled by the amount of support we have from the local community,” said Brent Stephens, a member of the board. “We see our future as being full partners with the horse racing industry … and other partners in the future.”

A major renovation of the 13,000-seat venue is planned

Children play with horses at Colonial Downs. Courthouse News photo by Brad Kutner.

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