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Colonial Downs seeks inclusion in casino talks
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Colonial Downs seeks inclusion in casino talks

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A proposed Pamunkey Indian tribe casino in Richmond would directly compete with Rosie’s Gaming Emporium’s new Richmond location, and its operators want to be considered for casino status.

The Virginia General Assembly is expected to debate a number of casino and gaming bills this session, including some that would permit one casino to operate in each of five cities — Bristol, Danville, Norfolk, Portsmouth and Richmond.

In addition to the horse-racing track at New Kent, Colonial Downs Group and Peninsula Pacific Entertainment operate four Rosie’s gaming locations in Hampton, New Kent, Richmond and Vinton featuring electronic slot machine-style historic horse racing games.

Becoming a casino would allow them to offer Class III games — regular slot machines, card and table games, including poker and roulette, along with sports betting.

The group has invested more than $40 million into the Richmond Rosie’s, a 140,000-square-foot former Kmart location on Midlothian Turnpike, about 10 miles from the Ingram Avenue site the Pamunkey recently acquired.

Colonial Downs Group Chief Operating Officer Aaron Gomes said his company deserves consideration.

“Colonial Downs Group and Peninsula Pacific Entertainment have been in the gaming industry for over 20 years and in our experience, no state has ever expanded gaming without giving consideration to an incumbent gaming operator, especially one who has invested $300 million, delivered tens of millions in tax revenues to the state and its localities and created more than 1,000 new jobs,” Gomes said in a written statement.

Peninsula Pacific Entertainment — formerly Peninsula Gaming — is a Los Angeles-based private holding company that operates gaming, hospitality, industrial and other businesses. Currently a 50% partner in the Hard Rock Sioux City Resort and Casino, Peninsula Pacific expects to complete its full acquisition of the business in February, according to a written statement.

Peninsula Pacific Entertainment also owns and operates Del Lago Resort & Casino in Waterloo, New York, and Diamond Jacks Hotel and Casino in Bossier City, Louisiana, in addition to its Virginia properties.

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“We sincerely hope that remains the case here in Virginia. We have developed over a dozen major gaming facilities across the United States, and we stand ready to compete with any entity for the opportunity to help Virginia expand its gaming platform,” Gomes said. “We have proven our capabilities and commitment in Virginia over the past year by opening four extremely successful gaming operations. Giving consideration for partners with proven track records will be an important component as Virginia moves forward in developing gaming legislation over the coming weeks.”

With its 700 historic horse-racing games, the Richmond Rosie’s typically generates the most revenue of any Rosie’s location, according to reports filed with the Virginia Racing Commission. More than $66 million was wagered there in December, with the licensee netting more than $5.4 million for the month and the state receiving more than $495,000. Rosie’s Richmond location has generated more than $26.4 million net gaming revenue, $2.6 million for the state and more than $1.7 million for localities since Aug. 1, 2019, according to the commission reports.

In the fourth quarter of 2019, the four Virginia Rosie’s locations’ players wagered more than $488.6 million with the licensee netting more than $39.5 million and the state receiving more than $3.65 million.

Historical horse racing is forecast to generate $299 million in annual net revenue by 2024, according to the recent gaming study compiled by the Virginia Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission.

Of that total, 77.5% was to be retained by the licensee, while it would pay 9.4% in taxes to the state, 6.3% to host localities and 6.8% would be distributed to the Virginia Equine Alliance, primarily to boost live horse racing purses.

However, the JLARC study forecasts a substantial impact to those totals if casinos are approved.

“Casino competition would reduce gaming revenue for historical horse racing facilities, which would reduce the local taxes paid on that revenue,” according to the JLARC report. “It is projected that the impact of casino gaming to historical horse racing revenue would result in an $8.4 million [45%] decrease in local tax payments from what otherwise would have been paid in 2025. Of this amount, a reduction of $4.8 million would be realized in New Kent County [the home of Colonial Downs], with the remaining $3.6 million of reduction shared across the other four historical horse racing host localities.”

This includes an estimated $1.4 million reduction in revenues for the city of Richmond, which would offset about 18% of the projected $8 million gain in local revenue from a Richmond casino.

“The reduction in money available for racing purses may make it difficult to support the horse industry’s goal to essentially double the number of live horse racing days from its 2019 racing schedule,” according to the JLARC report.

Other Rosie’s locations are planned in Danville and Dumfries after voters there approved pari-mutuel wagering last November. Rosie’s has 2,149 HHR games in place now, plans to operate 10 facilities by 2022 and has a state-imposed cap of 3,000 HHR machines, but that number can be revised.

State Racing Commission regulations allow up to 700 machines at the Colonial Downs track with a sliding scale for other sites. Rosie’s locations in larger cities, including Richmond, can have up to 700 machines; communities with between 60,000 and 120,000 residents can have up to 300 machines while towns and cities with fewer than 60,000 people are restricted to 150.

dmcgee@bristolnews.com | 276-645-2532 | Twitter: @DMcGeeBHC

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