Vinton Town Council has adopted a resolution to request authorization from the Virginia Racing Commission to license up to 500 Historical Racing Terminals within the Town of Vinton and to grant approval to the Colonial Downs Group LLC to operate the terminals within a satellite pari-mutuel wagering facility to be located in the town.
They took this action at their meeting on September 4 after a presentation from Assistant Town Manager Pete Peters.
Peters explained the history of pari-mutuel horse wagering in Vinton, which was approved by town voters in a referendum in November 2003. The state required the referendum before granting the initial license to “establish, operate, or own a satellite wagering facility.”
Council amended zoning regulations in 2004 to allow such facilities as a “by-right” use within the General Business District.
“An off-track satellite wagering facility, known as Colonial Downs, was subsequently constructed on Vinyard Road and operated until 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,” said Peters.
In February 2018, the Virginia General Assembly passed House Bill 1609, which was then 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 House Bill 1609,” 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.
Historical racing terminals are defined in the regulations as “a form of horse racing that creates pari-mutuel pools from wagers placed on previously conducted horse races.” Players are presented odds on each race, along with a “skill graph” that displays each horse’s winning percentage. The actual names of the horses, jockeys, and trainers are concealed, as is the date of the race and track location.
According to the racing industry, historical racing machines date back to the early 2000s, but have grown in popularity over the years as the horse racing industry continues to struggle. Allowing patrons to quickly bet on a series of races and have their results determined has provided a much-needed financial boost to tracks.
“This new revenue model and necessary growth potential has attracted new investment interest into the state’s horse racing industry and created an avenue to potentially reopen up to 10 off-track facilities across the state, including reestablishing a facility within the Town of Vinton,” Peters said.
After passage of the bill, the Governor directed the Virginia Racing Commission (VRC) to establish guidelines to manage the licensing of the terminals.
The VRC drafted regulations and subsequently requested comments and suggested edits from the horse racing business community, the off-track operators, local government entities, and the public at-large. A maximum cap of terminals was set per locality based on population.
The initial draft proposed by the VRC permitted 150 historical racing terminals in jurisdictions with a population of 60,000 or below, 300 terminals in jurisdictions with populations between 60,000 and 120,000, and up to 700 terminals for jurisdictions with populations over 120,000.
That cap would have limited the number of terminals for the Town of Vinton, with a population of 8,065 residents in a three-square mile area, at 150 terminals.
Mayor Brad Grose, Town Manager Barry Thompson, and Peters attended the Racing Commission’s public meeting on the subject in Richmond on July 31, where the mayor provided comments suggesting flexibility with regards to the number of terminals allowed. Town staff submitted similar suggestions by letter to the VRC and the Governor’s office in early August.
The change from 150 terminals to 500 terminals would allow the Vinton location to “capitalize on the total market area of the greater Roanoke Metropolitan Service Area and realize its full potential for job creation and revenue generation,” staff noted. The Roanoke area has an estimated population of 314,128.
The resolution passed by council states that limiting the number of historical racing terminals to 150 will “greatly diminish the town’s ability to serve the full market area and obtain maximum benefit with regards to the establishment of employment opportunities in support of the facility and revenue generated from the historical racing terminals.”
The resolution further states that the Colonial Downs Group LLC intends to apply for a license from the VRC to permit Colonial Downs to operate a facility in the Town of Vinton offering pari-mutuel wagering, including historical horse racing, and wants to install up to 500 terminals.
In discussion before passing the resolution, council considered the positive impact of HB 1609 on the horse racing industry in Virginia and where the proceeds go. Councilman Mike Stovall mentioned that some of the proceeds will benefit special needs students through an equestrian center.
During the September 4 council meeting, Vinton Police Chief Tom Foster introduced Jessica Parker, the new Executive Assistant to the Chief, who joined the town on July 23. He noted that she was selected from a pool of 54 applicants, that the panel that interviewed her was extremely impressed with her during the application and interview process, and that she is “a good fit for the town.”
Parker grew up in Blue Ridge where she and her siblings were homeschooled. She graduated from Virginia Western in 2003 with a degree in General Studies and then Lee University in 2011 with a degree in Youth Ministry and a minor in Psychology. While at Lee, she and two friends began a non-profit called Life 423, an after-school mentorship program for girls ages 11-13, which is still active today.
After graduation, Parker was a site director in Philadelphia for Youth Works, a non-profit that hosts mission trips around the United States for youth to serve disadvantaged communities in rescue missions, community gardens, food banks, and more.
Parker then returned to Roanoke and began a career as an administrator at Gentle Shepherd Hospice.
“After seven years in the hospice field, Jessica desired a new challenge and opportunity for growth,” said Foster. “She stumbled upon the ad for Executive Assistant to the Chief of Police for the Town of Vinton and thought it would be a perfect fit for her ambitions. Jessica is motivated and excited to support the chief and the police department in their goals, while solving their problems and creating an encouraging positive environment.”
In other action, Town Council held a public hearing, and then passed an ordinance to amend the Town of Vinton Comprehensive Plan to adopt and incorporate by reference the 2018 Roanoke Valley Greenway plan.
They adopted a resolution authorizing the town manager to execute an Assistance Agreement with the City of Roanoke for rental of City equipment in case of a solid waste emergency— specifically not having an operable truck to collect refuse.
Town attorney Susan Waddell briefed council on granting a 10-year renewal of the cable television franchise held by Cox Communications. The current agreement expires on October 31. A public hearing is scheduled for September 18.
Deputy Fire and EMS Chief Chris Linkous accepted a proclamation from the town naming September 2018 as “National Preparedness Month.” The theme this year is “Disasters Happen. Prepare Now. Learn How.” Linkous suggested that citizens make an emergency plan before an emergency happens, learn basic life saving skills, check and update insurance coverage, and make a financial plan to cover emergency situations.