by Nick Hahn
The band has fallen silent and may be dispersing aboard the Colonial Downs Titanic.
There were four impactful public hearings originally scheduled for Tuesday’s Virginia Racing Commission concerning the future of Colonial Downs, but one was enough to provide direction. After hearing an application for four 2016 racing dates that included a contract with a horsemen’s group (the Old Dominion Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association) not designated as representing a majority of horsemen, the Virginia Racing Commission unanimously voted (4-0) to deny the request.
Last week, Colonial Downs withdrew an application for a single day of racing in 2015 and filed suit against the Virginia Racing Commission, the very body hearing the request. Yesterday, two other public hearings that would have allowed Colonial Downs to reopen off-track wagering facilities in Chesapeake and Hampton were given no consideration after the initial denial.
Shortly, very shortly, after the meeting Colonial Downs issued a statement.
“We have enjoyed outstanding support from New Kent County over the years and look forward to working with them to explore alternative uses for our New Kent property which holds significant promise as a golf course development,” said Stan Guidroz, regional vice president of Jacobs Entertainment.
Jeff Jacobs himself was even more to the point.
“I must say I have never been faced with such a hostile regulatory environment as this one,” Jacobs said in the statement. “The members of the VRC are too close to the HBPA [Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, the majority horsemen’s group] to allow them to look at Colonial Downs in a fair and impartial way.”
In their statements leading to the vote, commissioners indicated they have had enough of Jacobs’ past negotiating tactics. Colonial’s most recent proposal would in essence have paid Colonial Downs first, through off-track betting revenue, with the promise of very limited racing dates down the line.
“We have truly reached a crossroads,” said commissioner Daniel Van Clief. He added that in his tenure on the commission, he hadn’t made a bigger decision than this one. “It’s critical for this industry to be unified if it is to grow but unfortunately we have a schism. Bifurcating the industry splits revenue and is the wrong turn for future growth.”
“The problem has been the ownership and operational questions of this applicant.” said Commissioner Clint Miller, who quoted Jacobs’ comments when he surrendered his license in October 2014 during a rare appearance in front of the commission. “It’s not of the same caliber of the people he employs.
“The surrender of the unlimited license was a terrible blow. Why was it surrendered? Because Mr. Jacobs was dissatisfied with the action of his licensing agent. No compromising. ‘You can have my license, I’m leaving,’” added Miller. “If not for the initiative of the horsemen, we would have had no racing. We’re lucky to have it, considering the position of past state legislatures.”
“Turning in his license was a complete public spectacle,” echoed commission chair J. Sargeant Reynolds, who provided examples of deals nearly made only to be pulled of the table at the last minute.
“He’s the one guy that can make this deal, but he’s never in this room,” Debbie Easter, the Executive Director of the Virginia Thoroughbred Association, said of Jacobs, who was not present yesterday.
He was present, however, in October 2014 to turn in his license. Then, in a rare appearance before the Virginia Racing Commission, Jacobs showed up to turn in his license, made a brief statement, and then left abruptly during the meeting. Why didn’t he show up as much vigor in getting his license back?
A separate public hearing was scheduled concerning the status of the Twinspires, LLC but was deferred as the industry stakeholder, the Virginia Equine Alliance, and the ADW move forward in their negotiations concerning fees. A November 30th conference call was set to finalize the deal which would cancel a December public hearing.