The Colonial Downs Group has its sights set on Dumfries as one of two new locations for its next “Rosie’s Gaming Emporium” brand of pari-mutuel betting parlors. But Dumfries voters will have the final say if the effort reaches the ballot this November.
The Colonial Downs Group, which is relaunching its New Kent County, Virginia, horse racing track this summer, announced Thursday that longtime Dumfries resident Linda Wilkins submitted paperwork with the Prince William County Clerk of Court’s office to initiate the process of placing a referendum on the ballot to allow pari-mutuel wagering at a satellite facility in Dumfries.
A similar process took place Thursday morning in Danville, Virginia, the second town selected for a Rosie’s restaurant, bar and betting parlor.
Wilkins owns Evolution Auto Repair and has lived in Dumfries for most of her life. She is the daughter of former Dumfries Police Chief Horace Scites.
After her trip to the Manassas courthouse Thursday morning, Wilkins said she was glad to help with the effort to bring Rosie’s and pari-mutuel horse-race betting to Dumfries.
“I’m really excited about it. I hope everything passes. I think it’s going to bring in a lot of money and jobs for the town,” Wilkins said.
“I’m excited about the opportunity to bring a major facility like this to Dumfries. We’re talking about good jobs and more revenue for the town and the schools,” she added. “We need something like this.”
Dumfries Mayor Derrick Wood (D) acknowledged ahead of Thursday’s filing that he reached out to Colonial Downs Group to inquire about their interest in Dumfries for a Northern Virginia satellite facility. Wood said he will remain neutral on the referendum and isn’t much of a gambler, personally.
Still, he said he considers it his obligation as mayor to boost commercial development in Dumfries. Wood said he’s had several conversations with commercial entities – including Trader Joes, Whole Foods and several restaurant outlets — about moving to Dumfries since he took office last July.
Wood campaigned on making Dumfries, the oldest chartered town in Virginia, a destination of choice rather than just a place people pass through along U.S. 1.
“In my role as chief ambassador of Dumfries, my job is to entertain and explore all options for expanding our commercial base,” Wood said. “I cannot not explore it.”
State Sen. Scott Surovell, D-36th, said he, too, is supportive of the effort. Surovell notes that Northern Virginia residents already travel to Maryland to spend money at its new casinos. If there’s an appetite for such activity locally, the tax revenue might as well stay closer to home, Surovell said.
“Out-of-state gaming facilities have been funding their schools with Northern Virginians’ money for years and it’s about time we took steps to keep those dollars here,” Surovell said in a Colonial Downs press release. “This facility would be a gamechanger for Dumfries’ economic development.”
In an interview Thursday, Surovell said he believes Dumfries voters will support the referendum.
“If I were a resident of Dumfries and I knew of a way we could generate a 100 percent more tax revenue without me having to pay for it, I’d be all over it,” Surovell said.
New jobs, tax revenue
What would a Rosie’s pari-mutuel betting parlor mean for Dumfries?
Mark Hubbard, spokesman for the Colonial Downs Group, said the Dumfries outlet would likely most closely compare to the Rosie’s that opened in Vinton, Virginia, outside Roanoke, in May.
Under state legislation approved by the Virginia General Assembly in 2018, Colonial Downs revived its live horse racing at its New Kent County track, located outside Richmond, and is in the process of opening five pari-mutuel betting satellite facilities. Colonial Downs is so far the only organization licensed for off-track betting facilities in Virginia, Hubbard said.
The first Rosie’s Gaming Emporium opened in New Kent County in April. The Vinton location was next, and a third is set to open in Richmond in June. A fourth will open in Hampton in the fall, Hubbard said.
The facilities serve food and alcoholic beverages and allow patrons to vote on both live horse racing and “historical horse racing,” which happens through a machine.
People place bets on HHR machines that feed into a collective pool that players can win — with various purses.
The races are “historical,” meaning they are actual races that took place in past years. Because the games pull from such a vast pool of past races, it would be difficult or impossible for players to know the outcome before placing their bets.
Rosie’s patrons can also bet on live racing. Colonial Downs plans to run 15 live horse races this year between Aug. 8 and Sept. 7, Hubbard said.
The Vinton, Virginia, Rosie’s is about 15,000 square feet and has 150 historical horse racing machines, the number of which is limited by Vinton’s population, Hubbard said.
The Vinton outlet is expected to generate $500,000 in tax revenue annually. It brought 160 new jobs to Vinton with an average salary of more than $40,000 a year, Hubbard said.
The jobs include food and beverage servers as well as “ambassadors” that help with the gaming technology and several security positions. It’s hours are 10 a.m. to 2 a.m. on weekdays and 10 a.m. to 4 a.m. on weekends, Hubbard said.
No alcohol can be purchased past 2 a.m., he noted.
The Colonial Downs Group chose Dumfries for one of its newest locations because “it’s a vibrant and energetic town and was one of the localities that expressed an interest in what we are offering,” Hubbard said.
“We want to be located in Dumfries, and we’re excited to go out and share with voters what we’re about and what we do and let them decide if they’d like to be home to one of our facilities,” said Aaron Gomes, chief operating officer of Colonial Downs Group, in a press release.
According to Virginia law, a voter referendum is required in localities that have not already approved pari-mutuel wagering. Wilkins’ filing kicks off an effort to collect the needed signatures for the referendum to be placed on the ballot.
The petition, once approved, will require signatures from about 150 Dumfries registered voters, or 5 percent of the total number of people registered in Dumfries. Dumfries had 2,661 registered voters as of January 2019, according to state records.
The signatures must be collected and submitted to the local voter registrar at least 81 days before the election, putting the deadline for the Nov. 5 ballot at Aug. 16, Hubbard said.
The Colonial Downs Group will coordinate a Dumfries signature drive, according to the press release.
Members of Virginia’s horse-racing community are strong supporters of pari-mutuel betting as a means of raising the money necessary to revive race purses and revitalize the state’s racing industry.
“World-class horse racing is returning to Virginia, and we could not be more excited. When new communities approve pari-mutuel gaming at facilities within their borders, it will lift up the horse industry statewide, ensure more races at Colonial Downs, and generate new jobs and revenue in these localities and all across Virginia,” Debbie Easter, president of the Virginia Equine Alliance, said in the Colonial Downs press release.
“Our partnership with the Colonial Downs Group is a strong one, and we hope the voters of Dumfries will help this partnership to grow even further by voting yes for pari-mutuel wagering and gaming this November.”
Across the state, Colonial Downs Group says it’s making a $300 million investment and will create 800 new jobs by the end of 2019.
Those efforts are expected to 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 is not receiving any tax credits or government incentives, according to the Colonial Downs Group press release.
Reach Jill Palermo at [email protected]