Senate President Neville James (D-St. Croix) has said he is ‘pleasantly surprised’ with Gov. Kenneth Mapp’s plan for horse racing in the territory, suggesting the legislation Mapp seeks may get a warm reception.
“As a lifelong horse racing fan, it was a pleasure to hear Gov. Mapp cover all of the aspects of the industry when making details of the agreement available for public consideration," James said in a statement issued Sunday.
On Thursday Mapp held a news conference discussing the plan, which hinges on a $30 million investment by an outside party, VIGL Operations, which operates the renovated Caravelle Hotel and Casino in Christiansted. He has called a special session of the Legislature for Nov. 28 to consider legislation related to the proposal.
Among other things, Mapp is proposing legislation to consolidate the territory’s two horse racing commissions into one nine-member commission, along with the VIGL lease and franchise agreements.
At the Nov. 27 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. The cost would include the purchase of an extra 12.5 acres on St. Thomas that will help 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.
VIGL would not be eligible for Economic Development Commission tax benefits. Instead, the company would 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.
The agreement includes anti-doping measures, which James endorsed.
"People tend to focus on the dollars associated with horse racing, but the governor’s desire to implement anti-doping mandates is what makes this initiative attractive to me. … Drug-free and sound horses are important variables that allow for any horse racing circuit with designs on promoting a fan desirable product, to be attractive," he continued.
James said he believes the Senate can vet all the documents within 30 to 40 days.
“Knowing the members and their appreciation for proper due diligence, I think it’s safe to say that by the time we are ready to take up what has been submitted for action, the 31st Legislature will be informed to the best of their respective abilities to cast a vote, whether ‘Yea’ or ‘Nay,’" he said.
James said the deal "appears to cover all of the bases."
"I am extremely happy for the horsemen and horse owners, territorywide, who stand to reap the financial and animal-health benefits that they deserve, given the major commitments they’ve made over years waiting for this industry with tremendous potential to be pointed in a comprehensive genuine direction. At first blush, I give high marks to the governor and all interested parties involved,” James said.