More than a year after Colonial Downs shut down its off-track betting parlors, the Virginia Racing Commission approved a new license Tuesday for a satellite wagering facility on West Broad Street in Henrico County.
The Virginia Equine Alliance, a consortium of horse racing and breeding groups, filed for the license for Breakers Sports Grille, 9127 W. Broad St., which the commission approved unanimously — paving the way for what will be the first new off-track betting facility in Virginia since Colonial Downs closed shop.
A firm timetable for opening has yet to be established, said Darrell Wood, a spokesman for the alliance, citing negotiations over which tracks’ races will be available for wagering and renovations at the bar and restaurant to accommodate betting terminals, among other equipment.
“Obviously we’re looking to get this thing open as quickly as possible,” he said.
Current state law allows for a maximum of 10 such operations statewide and only in localities where they are permitted by existing referendums. Henrico and Richmond are the only two such jurisdictions in the area.
Colonial Downs racetrack in New Kent surrendered its license and closed in 2014 amid a dispute with the Virginia Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association — a nonprofit group that represents thoroughbred trainers and owners — over a racing schedule.
The commission regulates pari-mutuel wagering on horse racing, in which all bets are pooled to provide the payouts for winners, less a percentage for the management.
In Virginia, 80 percent of every dollar wagered goes to winning bets, while the remaining 20 percent is divided among various equestrian and breeding groups, including those represented by the alliance, as well as the commission itself.
David Lermond, the commission’s acting executive secretary, estimated that the Breakers operation could pull in a “handle” — the total amount of money wagered — of about $5 million in the first full year of operation.
The commission also approved allowing the Virginia Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association and the Virginia Thoroughbred Association, a breeder’s group, to spend $500,000 from restricted portions of the gaming proceeds the VHBPA receives on a program that would add a 25 percent bonus, to a maximum of $10,000, on purses won by Virginia-bred horses in New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Delaware and West Virginia, and $230,000 on additional out-of-state races for Virginia horses.
Proponents characterized the spending as a way to prop up horsemen and breeders still reeling from the closure of Colonial Downs, which effectively ended regular thoroughbred racing in the state, until efforts underway to bring regular harness racing to Shenandoah Downs in Woodstock and thoroughbred races to Morven Park in Leesburg come to fruition.
“Without racing in this state, our constituents are at a terrible disadvantage,” said Debbie Easter, executive director of the Virginia Thoroughbred Association and president of the Virginia Equine Alliance. “It wasn’t their fault that this thing blew up. … We’re trying to do a little something while we rebuild things.”
But Tad Berman, a horse-racing enthusiast, bar bouncer and one-time stockholder in Colonial Downs, who attended the meeting, said the program would benefit a small and select group of people.
“It’s just a continuing process of siphoning money out of the state of Virginia,” Berman said, adding that he wanted to see the commission take the money from the VHBPA’s discretionary account, which has a balance of more than $4.1 million, rather than the restricted fund, which has a balance of about $2.1 million.
Jeb Hannum, executive director of the Virginia Equine Alliance, said discretionary money was “critical to the future” of horse racing in Virginia.
“The fact of the matter is we can’t race horses in Virginia unless we have a place to race them,” he said. “Humpty Dumpty fell off the wall, and now we’re putting the pieces back together.”