The following appeared November 30th in The Martinsville Bulletin.
COLLINSVILLE-Off-track betting will soon arrive at Collinsville’s Dutch Inn.
On Wednesday, the Henry County Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) granted a special use permit to the hotel, which will allow for off-track betting – state-sanctioned satellite wagering on horse racing – at the hotel’s restaurant and bar.
Speaking on behalf of the Dutch Inn, Jim Farrell said that the hotel recently closed The Flying Dutchman Lounge for extensive renovations, and in 60 to 90 days, the former bar will re-open as an upscale restaurant and sports bar with satellite wagering operated by the Virginia Equine Alliance (VEA), operating as “Virginia Bets.”
Deborah Easter, President of the VEA, said that her organization represents the various Virginia horse racing and wagering groups in Virginia since Colonial Downs turned in their racing license.
“We’re charged with getting racing and wagering back in the state,” Easter told the BZA. “It helps fuel what we do agriculturally as breeders and as people that raise racehorses. Those moneys that we get out of the wagering facilities go right back into the state, either to produce race days or to incentivize people to do business here in Virginia. I think that as far as the facility, (Dutch Inn owners) the Vaughns and our group are both like-minded.”
Bill Vaughn of the Dutch Inn said that the complete renovation of the former Flying Dutchman Lounge will include the addition of 30-plus televisions, which will broadcast all major sporting events.
“A person that likes sports can come in there and enjoy it, too,” Easter said. “They don’t have to wager if they don’t want to.”
The VEA is investing $300,000 in the renovation, Easter said, and has already received approval for off-track betting from the Virginia Racing Commission. Horse racing is the only form of wagering legal in Virginia and the majority of the U.S., Easter added, and no other forms of wagering will be allowed.
The VEA will operate the satellite wagering portion of the facility, she said, while the Dutch Inn will operate the restaurant and bar portion.
Easter projected that over the course of five years, the off-track betting alone should contribute about $134,000 in tax dollars to the county, in addition to hotel and restaurant taxes. She added that the facility will likely draw tourism from North Carolina, which does not have off-track betting.
Henry County Director of Planning, Zoning and Inspections Lee Clark told the BZA members that off-track betting is allowed in Henry County, but special use permits are required to make sure that the specific location chosen is appropriate. Clark said that he thought the Dutch Inn was an appropriate location, and he did not recommend any conditions to the special use permit.
The BZA approved the special use permit in a 4-0 vote. BZA member Manker Stone was absent from the meeting.
A second attempt
This would be the second attempt to host off-track betting in Henry County. The county’s last off-track betting site was Colonial Downs, formerly located at 3951 Greensboro Road. The site opened in 2005 and shut down Feb. 1, 2014, due to a contract dispute between Colonial Downs and the Virginia Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association.
At the time, both sides told the Bulletin the dispute involved a desire by Colonial Downs to move from races averaging a $200,000 winner’s purse to an annual fall turf festival offering larger purses. The VHBPA rejected the proposal.
Without a contract with the horsemen’s association, Colonial Downs couldn’t allow betting on thoroughbred races, which accounted for 75 percent on average of the wagers placed at the business. Thoroughbred races are those involving a jockey on the back of the horse, with the horse running at a gallop. Harness races, meanwhile, involve a driver sitting behind the horse on a two-wheeled cart. Those don’t require a contract from the horsemen’s association, but only accounted for 25 percent of the bets taken at Colonial.
At the time in 2014, Colonial officials told the Bulletin they had chosen the Henry County site and three others to close because they were the least likely to be viable sources of revenue from harness racing betting.