NEW KENT, Va. (WDBJ7) With scrolling images and ringing bells, you could easily confuse them with a casino slot machine.
Colonial Downs media representative Mark Hubbard stands in front of a Historic Horse Racing machine, which was demonstrated for members of the press at an event Monday morning in New Kent.
“These games look like a traditional slot machine, but they’re far from it,” said Colonial Downs’ Chief Operating Officer, Aaron Gomes.
Historical Horse Racing machines were approved as a form of gambling in the Commonwealth by the Virginia General Assembly in 2018. Unlike a slot machine where the user is betting against the casino, players put money into a pool and have an opportunity to win part of a jackpot.
To win the player has to bet correctly on a horse race from the past. They don’t know which race until after their bet is placed.
“I think people are really going to enjoy playing them,” Gomes said during a media event to demonstrate the machines in New Kent Monday.
A digital recreation of the horse race briefly appears during game play on a Historic Horse Racing machine, but the most prominent display on screen is a series of scrolling images typically associated with casino slots. That’s designed to give the games wider appeal
“The traditional horse betting customer is an older male demographic and what we’ve seen in other jurisdictions where historical horse racing games are legal is that it brings in the older female demographic,” said Gomes.
Profits from the machines will support actual horse racing at Colonial Downs, east of Richmond. It’s been closed since 2014, but owners plan to host new races at the facility beginning in August.
“Without historical horse racing machines, horse racing most likely would not be coming back to the Commonwealth,” said Gomes.
150 Historical Horse Racing machines will be installed at Rosie’s Gaming Emporium in Vinton. It’ll be a new concept for the area and organizations like the National Council on Problem Gambling worry it could have the social cost of increased gambling addiction in our region.
“The cost involved is borne not just by the individuals who develop problems, but their families, businesses and communities,” said Keith Whyte, president of the National Council on Problem Gambling.
While the games are designed to attract new interest to horse racing, Whyte believes the games will not succeed in generating widespread interest for the sport.
“I don’t know that it’s going to revive an industry that, quite frankly, is dying in Virginia and is dying nationwide,” Whyte said.
Leaders at Colonial Downs disagree.
“It’s a proven commodity in Kentucky and other states where Historic Horse Racing is legal,” said Gomes. “They’re very successful.”
The true impact will be known when Rosie’s Gaming Emporium officially opens for business at the end of April.