Gov. Kenneth Mapp has called the Legislature into special session on Nov. 28 to approve a set of bills that would allow for the revitalization of the local horse racing industry that he said during a press conference Thursday “has fallen on hard times.”
Mapp’s plan hinges upon a $30 million investment by an outside party, VIGL Operations, which currently operates the renovated Caravelle Hotel and Casino in Christiansted. According to Mapp, the company has already been vetted and licensed by the Casino Control Commission, while its parent company, B & B Amusements, has designed and operated entertainment venues in Illinois and Louisiana.
At Thursday’s press conference, Mapp said that under the terms of the government’s deal with VIGL, the company will make a $30 million investment in both the Clinton Phipps Racetrack on St. Thomas and Randall Doc James Racetrack on St. Croix, including the purchase of an extra 12.5 acres on St. Thomas that will help to expand Clinton Phipps.
Mapp gave a timeline of two years for 40 percent of the redevelopment, with both projects being “substantially completed” within three and a half years. As part of the agreement, the company will also be allowed to operate “racinos” at both tracks with a limited number of video lottery terminals at each site.
The contract also calls for specific facilities to be developed on both islands – including bars, restaurants, lounges, restrooms, viewing stands, parking, jockey locker rooms and vendor kiosks, plus new barns and veterinary care facilities for horses – and the posting of a $25 million performance bond.
According to Mapp, the government can terminate or revoke its 20-year concession agreement if VIGL does not meet the required terms, which include:
-a minimum of 18 live race days annually on both St. Thomas and St. Croix in the first three years and a minimum of 24 each year after;
– minimum purse sizes of $100,000 per race day with much bigger purses guaranteed for the annual Carnival and Festival horseraces;
– training and scholarships related to horse racing of up to $100,000 annually;
– and the establishment of a new establishment of a new nine-member Horse Racing Commission to oversee operations in both districts.
With VIGL essentially taking over the management of both tracks, there is a need for local laws that govern the sport of horseracing to be revised, such as the consolidation of both districts’ Horse Racing Commissions.
At a Public Finance Authority board meeting in September, Mapp announced that former V.I. Attorney General Terri Griffiths was being hired as a special government counsel tasked with updating the laws and, at the time, her contract award was approved at $125,000 with a cap of $12,500 in expenses.
A package with a set of new statutes, along with the VIGL lease and franchise agreements, was emailed to senators after the press conference, along with a transmittal letter to Senate President Neville James, in which Mapp described both local tracks as being in a “serious state of disrepair,” with past operators being “unwilling or unable to invest” what has been necessary.
“Our tracks need new significant capital investment, a minimum number of race days and larger purses for our horses,” Mapp said in the Senate letter. Without these improvements, we cannot develop sports tourism in the territory that will attract additional economic opportunities.”
During the press conference, Mapp said VIGL would not be eligible for Economic Development Commission tax benefits. Instead, the company will be required to pay higher taxes on gaming revenues, along with annual license fees, franchise taxes and rent of $108,000 per year on St. Croix and $24,000 per year on St. Thomas.
“Horseracing has a long history in the territory but has fallen on hard times here and elsewhere,” Mapp said.
“The agreement we have reached with VIGL, and the legislation that will accompany it, will bring a substantial infusion of investment into the territory, a fresh source of government revenues, and the rebirth of the Virgin Islands’ storied horse racing industry.”