On Tuesday when they approved a pari-mutuel gaming referendum, voters in Danville decided it was time to take a leap of faith and invest in the new city that’s emerging on the foundation of the old on the banks of Dan River. To those voters who cast ballots to approve the referendum, we extend our congratulations; to those on the opposite side of the question, we say, “Keep an open mind because the best is yet to come.”

After months of grassroots campaigning by the Colonial Downs Group, which operates a horse racing track in New Kent County and four pari-mutuel gaming centers around the state, Danville residents gave a thumbs up to allowing gaming in the city. By a margin of 5,083 votes to 4,717 (51.87 percent to 48.1 percent), voters said pari-mutuel gaming would have a role to play in the city’s and the region’s future growth.

We can understand the trepidation many of our fellow Southside Virginians may harbor toward the idea of gaming. This is, after all, the buckle of the Bible belt in Virginia. Indeed, it was only 10 years ago in 2009 that Danville’s neighbors in Pittsylvania County approved liquor by the drink for all restaurants in the county and Sunday sales of beer and wine. We deeply respect the heritage our parents and grandparents bestowed upon us, but time moves forward and social mores change and evolve.

We also deeply respect the religious basis for many of those no votes, but society has changed and not everyone is religious or sees gaming as a “sin.” In a pluralistic society, it’s just not acceptable for one group to restrict the rights and privileges of another. Let’s face it: Many people enjoy a glass of wine with dinner at a fine restaurant or a craft martini at one of downtown’s unique eateries. If that’s not your cup of tea, don’t partake and don’t enjoin others who may believe differently from enjoying. The same goes for pari-mutuel gaming. If you believe gaming or gambling is a sin, fine, just don’t restrict the rights of folks who believe differently.

City officials say Colonial Downs hasn’t yet approached them about sites for a Rosie’s Gaming Emporium. And in a meeting last month with Register & Bee editors and reporters, company leaders said it’s their practice to work with officials in their communities about possible sites, only locating where local leaders want them to.

What attracted Colonial Downs to Danville, company officials say, was geography. Sitting astride the state line with North Carolina, the city is within easy driving distance of several large metropolitan areas in the Tar Heel State: Greensboro, Durham and Raleigh. It’s a market the company wants to tap.

It’s also a market that fits the company’s customer demographic profile. The typical customer of a small, strip-mall-type betting parlor, according to industry data, is male, 68 years of age or older and lower-middle to lower economic class. Colonial Downs says its typical customer for Rosie’s and similar establishments it operates is a 55-year-old, middle- to upper-middle class female.

The economic impact to the city will not be unsubstantial. For example, the Rosie’s in Vinton generated more than $53,000 in tax revenue in August alone for an annualized estimate of almost $640,000. With Danville being so close to a lucrative market of North Carolinians, the tax benefits could be larger, depending on how many machines will be in use. The company obviously will be hiring locally, but it will also be buying locally and working with local businesses and retailers through a customer loyalty points program to encourage its guests to support other local businesses.

Danville, as we all know, is undergoing dramatic social and economic changes. New people and new businesses are moving to area. The River District is undergoing a transformation from tobacco warehouses and textile mills to lofts, restaurants, unique shops and craft breweries. With a business such as Rosie’s coming to city, that process will only be speeded up.

A new Danville is rising from the economic ashes of the collapse of the tobacco, textile and furniture industries of days past — let’s enjoy the ride into the future.

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