Colonial Downs Group is one step closer to getting a pari- mutuel wagering question on Danville’s ballot in November.
A recently filed petition to land on the November ballot a referendum on the issue has enough verified signatures to move the effort forward, Danville Registrar Peggy Petty said.
The next step is for Petty to take the verified signatures to the clerk of circuit court, who will turn them over for a circuit court judge to sign a court order to put the question on the Nov. 5 ballot.
The judge must sign the order at least 81 days before the election — or by Aug. 16.
Petty said she hopes to get the signatures to the clerk of Danville Circuit Court by Wednesday.
“My goal is to get all this done,” Petty said Tuesday morning. “I want to get it to [Clerk of Court Gerald Gibson] in the morning.”
Under Virginia law, localities that have not already approved pari-mutuel wagering require a voter referendum before such a facility can come to their community.
Colonial Downs Group, which owns the Colonial Downs horse racetrack in New Kent County, needed 1,403 verified signatures to get the question on the ballot. They were required to get signatures from at least 5% of registered voters who live in Danville. As of Jan. 1, the city had 28,054 registered voters.
Petty said she has 1,652 verified signatures out of the nearly 3,400 that petitioners estimated they submitted. The registrar’s office had received 382 pages of signatures as of Tuesday afternoon.
In May, Danville resident Trina McLaughlin, on behalf of Colonial Downs Group, submitted the paperwork to start the petition process for a voter referendum on whether an off-track, pari-mutuel betting satellite facility could operate in the city.
“The project sounds entertaining and fun, but most importantly brings good jobs and tax revenue that would help schools,” McLaughlin, who ran for City Council in 2016 and manages the basketball cheerleading squad at George Washington High School, said at the time. She had heard about the project through a friend working with representatives of Colonial Downs Group and offered to submit the legal documents.
McLaughlin could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
Colonial Downs spokesman Mark Hubbard said there were 25 total signature collectors, with two to six at each event in the city, where he said they received positive response.
“We were very fortunate at the local [Danville] Braves games,” Hubbard said.
They also held a signature drive event at 2 Witches Winery & Brewing Company last month.
“We had really good turnout for that event,” he said. “We had a steady flow of people.”
Colonial Downs Group intends for the Danville satellite site to be a Rosie’s Gaming Emporium, a gaming facility with sites throughout Virginia.
Such a facility is estimated to bring about 150 to 200 jobs with an average annual salary of $40,000 plus benefits to Danville, Hubbard said in May.
It would include two types of betting — historic horse racing involving simulated, video game-like races in which players bet on a chosen horse, and satellite betting on real-life horse races taking place elsewhere.
“It will be a lively and new form of entertainment,” Hubbard said.
Some of the revenues from a satellite facility in Danville would help fund what is known in horse racing as “purses,” or the money that goes to the winning horse and team, to help attract thoroughbred horse racing to Colonial Downs in New Kent County.
Revenues from a satellite facility would go toward the state, locality and to the Virginia Equine Alliance, which represents major horse racing groups in the commonwealth.
If put before Danville voters, the ballot question will be: “Shall pari-mutuel wagering be permitted in the City of Danville at satellite facilities in accordance with chapter 29 ... of Title 59.1 of the Code of Virginia?”
Danville Vice Mayor Alonzo Jones expressed support for such a referendum, emphasizing it will be up to voters whether to allow pari-mutuel betting.
“The citizens have the right to decide whether they want this or not,” Jones said. “We want to give the citizens the right to determine what they want in their community.”
The interest comes as the state is researching the possibility of casinos operating in Danville, Bristol and Portsmouth. First, there would have to be a referendum allowing casinos in those cities, but such a legal maneuver would not come until after the Virginia General Assembly has studied casino gaming regulations, with a report submitted by Dec. 1.
Crane reports for the Register & Bee. He can be reached at (434) 791-7987.