By John R. Crane
There’s still speculation of where in Danville an off-track betting parlor would go if the referendum for it passes next week. But there doesn’t appear to have been much drama in the way of finding a spot for the ones now open in Vinton and Hampton — it seems that city officials helped out.
In the case of Vinton, a satellite betting facility shut down there in 2014 — when facility owner Colonial Downs closed for business — after 10 years of operation. The town is located just outside Roanoke, so there had been a population center to support the facility. And the building, located in the town’s commercial corridor, sat empty until Rosie’s Gaming Emporium — owned by the new iteration of Colonial Downs — took over the spot in May.
“We’d been marketing that property for a couple of prospects, but when we realized gaming would be coming back, it was a no-brainer,” said Richard Peters, Vinton assistant town manager and director of economic development.
Early last year, the Chicago-based company Revolutionary Racing bought the shuttered Colonial Downs horse racetrack in New Kent County and began looking across the state for various locations to open its new brand of off-track betting parlor — Rosie’s. The revamped Colonial Downs eventually settled on Danville as a possible home for Rosie’s and filed the paperwork for a referendum on pari-mutuel betting, which is the type of pooled wagering done at its off-track businesses.
Vinton’s voters decided in favor of pari-mutuel betting in 2003, which led to the original Colonial Downs owners opening an off-track betting site in the town the next year.
So, when the Virginia General Assembly passed legislation last year allowing slot-like, historic horse racing machines — a staple at Rosie’s locations — Vinton officials began trying to catch the attention of the new Colonial Downs management.
“We actually pursued them,” Peters said.
Closer to the coast in Hampton, a ribbon-cutting event was held Tuesday morning for the opening of a new Rosie’s Gaming Emporium in the shopping area known as the Power Plant Complex, just off Interstate 64.
The facility features 700 historical horse racing machines and, like its sister locations, also features simulcast horse racing, a restaurant and bar and a gift shop.
That makes four locations in Virginia for Rosie’s, including one in Richmond and another in New Kent County, where Colonial Downs has its racetrack and headquarters.
“Rosie’s was aware we had an off-track betting facility at one time,” said Frederick Gaskins, spokesman for the city of Hampton.
The former off-track betting facility was considered for Hampton’s new Rosie’s, he explained, but was deemed unacceptable.
“Hampton’s economic development department worked with them to identify the current location in the Power Plant,” he wrote via email.
The Rosie’s is located at Power Plant Parkway, about five minutes from the Hampton Coliseum entertainment venue, Hampton Roads Convention Center and a major shopping area. It is about 10 minutes from the city’s downtown.
Hampton economic development officials worked with Rosie’s officials and accompanied them in meetings at the Virginia General Assembly and at the Virginia Racing Commission, which regulates horse racing and such related gaming in the state as historical horse racing machines.
“We actually met them while they were working to re-establish Colonial Downs in New Kent and became very well-acquainted with all the key executives,” Gaskins said.
As for Vinton, its Rosie’s is in a bustling area of the town.
“It’s probably the most heavily trafficked road in our community,” Peters said. “That was our preference because it was an existing facility. It was a property that was falling into blight.”
Mark Hubbard, Colonial Downs Group spokesman, said the Rosie’s locations in Vinton and Hampton were great fits for the company.
“They are population centers that offered good locations for customer access,” Hubbard said.
In each locality, Rosie’s representatives have worked with local officials to identify a location “that suits their needs and works for us,” Hubbard said.
Vinton has about 8,100 people within the town limits and its Rosie’s has 150 machines regulated by the state racing commission. That is the highest number the town can have based on its population.
But the town is petitioning the state racing commission to grant Vinton additional machines based on the population their Rosie’s serves, which includes about 300,000 people, Peters said. That includes Roanoke County, the cities of Roanoke and Salem.
“We’re a small town within a large urban footprint,” he said.
Vinton’s Rosie’s pulls in patrons from West Virginia, North Carolina, Southwest Virginia, as well as those from Richmond, even though they have their own Rosie’s.
“It’s pulling from a two- to three-hour radius of Vinton,” Peters said. “We are experiencing visitation from a considerable distance, more than we ever imagined.”
Though $400,000 in annual tax revenues were expected as a result of Rosie’s, more than that is anticipated.
“They’re outpacing that,” he said.
As for Danville, voters will decide whether to approve pari-mutuel betting Tuesday.
“We are still evaluating possible locations and part of that is working with the city, and until we have a clear path through voters’ approval, it’s just premature to enter into any sort of final agreement,” Hubbard said. “We want to make sure it’s a place where the city wants us to be.”
Crane reports for the Register & Bee. He can be reached at (434) 791-7987.