If it looks like a casino, feels like a casino, and plays like a casino, it’s probably because it is one, or might as well be. Last week, New Kent County, outside of Richmond, officially opened one such establishment.
According to the new “Rosie’s Gaming Emporium” at the Colonial Downs facility, which was sold to politicians last year (over our persistent arguments to the contrary) as ‘the only thing that can save live horse racing in Virginia’: “Our 600 [Historical Horse Racing (HHR)] Machines look, feel and play like the games you know and love!” (Click here to watch their video demonstration of one of these “HHR” machines.)
If anyone was somehow fooled before into believing that all this had something to do with horses, the evidence is now undeniable: These are simply lined rows of slot machines in an atmosphere that by any ordinary description is a casino. And there are plans in the works to put the same Rosie’s Gaming Emporiums in various locations across the state, including on Midlothian Turnpike in South Richmond, in Vinton, and in Hampton – all by the end of the year.
As I told the Richmond Times-Dispatch, “The only winner of expanded gambling in Virginia is the gambling industry itself. The promised panacea of increased revenue to the state never seems to materialize, and the cost to the community of broken homes and families can be devastating.”
For many reasons, it is clear that this effort has never primarily been about the cherished past-time of thoroughbred horse racing. That was evident when the industry stakeholders who influenced the Virginia Racing Commission stripped from its draft regulations any requirement for a minimum number of live race days at the tracks. Meanwhile, their stated intention is to change the regulations to allow for an unlimited number of these slot machines to be placed around the state (currently capped at 2,000). We need only to look at the model in other states to recognize it is merely casino gaming by another name, serving as a lucrative cash-cow for a select few business interests, all under the guise of “horse racing.” A classic example of “crony capitalism”, the government grants monopolies to a favored few, to the great detriment of countless others.
Not only are these ‘miniature casinos’ destined to lead to the many social problems experienced everywhere these predatory establishments crop up, but as Senator Louise Lucas correctly noted after the bill authorizing it passed in 2018, it’s "the camel's nose under the tent," adding that she saw little difference between machines that allow historical horse race betting and slots. Senator Lucas, who has for many years been pushing for casinos in Virginia, is very pleased by all of this because of how it is opening the door to full-scale casinos throughout the state. (For a brief history of how this came to be in 2018, read our blog about it here.)
While we have every intention to do all we can to resist that very real and imminent prospect, it’s hard not to say “We told you so.”
In related news, it was revealed yesterday that in Kentucky, where this same scheme has been underway for a few years now, the “HHR” industry stakeholders paid for their own regulations to be written and for years had been paying for the testing services of their own machines with virtually no direct oversight from the horse racing commission. In other words, the gambling industry was in charge of ensuring that their own machines were not cheating people. Talk about the fox guarding the hen house.
Sadly, that is not so different from the kind of incestuous relationships we have witnessed between the government and gambling industries here. When thinking about these issues, it is always helpful to keep in mind that gambling operations owe their success largely to creating the most effective ways to swindle people out of their money.