Last year, Colonial Downs, Virginia’s only year round horse racing track, closed its doors due to a dispute between its operator and the state. During this year’s General Assembly session, legislation was adopted that purported to provide funding for the horse industry in Virginia that it lost due to Colonial Downs closing. With the closing of the track, the “Off Track Betting” (OTB) establishments related to Colonial Downs have also closed. However, Governor Terry McAuliffe has amended two bills adopted by the General Assembly to keep the OTBs open despite the closing of Colonial Downs.
When proponents of horse racing first began selling the idea in Virginia, opponents argued that it would expand gambling, and likely fail, because there simply isn’t enough interest in horse racing in Virginia. Sure enough, it wasn’t long after Colonial Downs opened that proponents came back to the General Assembly asking to open OTBs to find more money to supplement Colonial Downs because it was failing. First it was a handful of OTBs, but then later, more OTBs were needed because more money was needed because, as opponents warned, Colonial Downs simply couldn’t exist on its own.
The Code of Virginia allows for up to ten OTBs. Often, these businesses are located in low income areas (usually near the pay day lenders), and thrive on taking money from those who can least afford to bet. The Family Foundation opposed OTBs from the beginning, and still opposes them. OTBs were sold to Virginians as a way to keep horse racing alive at Colonial Downs, but that experiment has failed. Leave it to government to continually try to prop up a failed industry! It’s time for OTBs to close their doors in Virginia for good.
Part of the revenue from Colonial Downs and OTBs goes to Virginia’s struggling horse industry. Unfortunately, that industry bet that gambling would be a good source of revenue – and it has lost that bet. The General Assembly shouldn’t reopen OTBs because an industry in Virginia made a bad business decision.
The bills the Governor amended to keep OTBs open are HB 1826 and SB 1097.