Colonial Downs groundbreaking heralded in Vinton

At the State of the Town Address on December 5, Vinton Mayor Brad Grose announced that “pari-mutuel off-track horse wagering is coming back to Vinton in the former Colonial Downs building in 2019 with elaborate interior and exterior renovations.”

Groundbreaking for the Colonial Downs Group (CDG), branded “Rosie’s Gaming Emporium,” followed on December 17 at the former Colonial Downs location on Vinyard Road.

The property, including the 15,200-square-foot building and 8.5 acres of land, was purchased by CDG from Henry and Sarah Brabham, who also recently sold the Lancerlot Sports Complex, just across the street.

The project kick-off ceremony was uniquely opened by bugler Jonathan Greenberg in a bowler hat worn by the original bugler at the Colonial Downs racetrack, playing a fanfare on a Herald trumpet originally owned and played by that same bugler.

There was also a race horse on hand for the event– Lily, “Seeking the Breeze,” a retired thoroughbred who raced at Colonial Downs in 2012 as a 2-year-old.

Mike Donovan, chief operating officer for the Colonial Downs Group, welcomed individuals of note to the ceremony, including Sarah Brabham, Vinton Mayor Brad Grose, President of the Virginia Equine Alliance Debbie Easter, Vice Mayor Keith Liles, Councilwoman Janet Scheid, former Virginia Delegate Dick Cranwell and many town and county employees.

Donovan described the future Rosie’s Gaming Emporium as a “world class entertainment venue” which would attract crowds not only from Vinton, but “from out of town and out of state.”

Easter then spoke of efforts to reinvigorate the horse racing industry in Virginia, “the birthplace of horse racing in this country” and of world-renowned champion Secretariat.

Mayor Grose extolled the partnerships that gave life to this project and especially thanked Town Manager Barry Thompson and Assistant Town Manager Pete Peters for their tireless work in finalizing the project.

The Colonial Downs Group was granted operating licenses by the Virginia Racing Commission on December 13, allowing thoroughbred horse racing to return to the Commonwealth next August with 15 races planned in 2019, and 20 the following year. That came along with approval to open a 600-unit historic horse racing (HHR) operation in New Kent County.

The organization plans to revive thoroughbred racing in Virginia through a $300 million enterprise funded largely by those historical horse racing machines.

While casinos are banned in Virginia (one of 11 states that don’t have a tribal or commercial casino), gaming venues featuring historical horse racing terminals will now be coming to locations across the state after authorization by the General Assembly.

Historical racing machines present bettors with the same odds that occurred during a previously conducted horse race with the names of the horses, jockeys, trainers, and track location and date concealed. Bettors make their picks based on the odds, and a handicapping feature that displays each horse’s statistics.

The Historical horse racing technology is the most distinctive change from the old Colonial Downs and is expected to create a lucrative new revenue stream.

Demolition has been under way for about a week at the Vinton Rosie’s and will continue for a couple more, with the building being completely gutted before renovations get underway.

The Vinton project will feature a restaurant seating about 34, a bar, a gift shop, and 150 Historical Horse Racing Games. Past and live racing games will be available with live streaming of thoroughbred horse races in North America.

Guests must be 18 years of age to enter the facility. Rosie’s will be open seven days a week with hours of operation still to be determined.

The Vinton Rosie’s hopes to employ approximately 125 workers (with an average income above $40,000 plus benefits).

The Colonial Downs Group says it is making a $300 million investment in the Commonwealth of Virginia creating 800 new jobs by the end of 2019. They anticipate this effort will generate $25 million annually in state tax revenues, $17 million annually in local tax revenues and $25 million annually to Virginia’s horse industry. The project did not request and is not receiving any tax credits or government incentives.

At the groundbreaking ceremony, Donovan estimated that the project will generate approximately $1.5 million in taxes locally with approximately $500,000 going to the Town of Vinton on an annual basis.

The town will be able to collect meals and related lodging taxes, BPOL (Business, Professional and Occupational License) taxes, admissions taxes, real estate and personal property taxes, and a special pari-mutuel wagering tax.

He said he hopes to draw a large proportion of visitors from surrounding counties and nearby states to bring additional revenues to Vinton.

Mark Hubbard, spokesman from McGuire Woods Consulting, the PR firm handling the project statewide, said that the Colonial Downs Group has plans to open five satellite wagering facilities in 2019, each with the newly approved historic horse racing machines, live simulcast horse race wagering, and dining services. The planned schedule for openings is: New Kent at Colonial Downs on April 15, Vinton on April 30, Richmond on June 8, Hampton in late summer, and Chesapeake by the end of the year.

The original Colonial Downs opened in Vinton in 2004 after approval was won in a voter referendum in November 2003. Over 900 customers showed up on opening day.

Colonial Downs, including the Vinton location on Vinyard Road, stopped operating under previous ownership in 2014 when all of the off-track facilities in the state of Virginia were closed after the contract between the facility owner and the Virginia Horseman’s Alliance was not extended. The closures, involving a dispute over racing schedules and seasons, went unresolved.

In February 2018, the Virginia General Assembly passed House Bill 1609, signed by Governor Northam, which amended the original state code to also permit “historical wagering terminals” within licensed off-track horse-racing facilities.

Northam said he was “pleased to sign” the bill and is hopeful that the “legislation will reinvigorate the horse industry and allow thoroughbred racing to return to Virginia.” Virginia held its last live horse race in 2014. The first day of racing at the Colonial Downs racetrack is set for August 8, 2019, with the Virginia Derby scheduled for August 31.

In September 2018, Vinton Town Council adopted a resolution to request authorization from the Virginia Racing Commission to license up to 500 Historical Racing Terminals within the town and to grant approval to the Colonial Downs Group LLC to operate the terminals within a satellite pari-mutuel wagering facility in the town.

Now the project is underway.

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