The Virgin Islands Casino Control Commission acted Wednesday on a promise for a new era in Virgin Island horse racing.
The commission authorized a transition of operations of the horse racing tracks and racino facilities from Treasure Bay V.I. Corp. to VIGL Operations LLC. Also authorized was a settlement agreement between TRAXCO, the V.I. Horse Racing Commission, the V.I. Department of Sports, Parks and Recreation, and the V.I. government; as well as a stipulated judgment between TRAXCO, the government and the commission.
Lance Griffith, vice president of VIGL Operations, said his company would be investing $25 million in improvements at both tracks ($14 million on St. Croix and $11 million on St. Thomas). He told the Source that the company expects to have the improvements concluded within 42 months after the franchise agreement becomes official.
TRAXCO may run the racino on St. Croix for two years after the agreement goes into effect, but if VIGL has the ability to operate a racino in a different facility on the racetrack after a year, it can buy out TRAXCO’s remaining year.
The plans for improvements at St. Croix’s Randall “Doc”James track calls for, along with $1 million track improvement, the complete demolition of the stands and the building of replacement stands.
Griffith said the site plans have already been drawn and will soon start their way through the permitting process.
Casino Commission meetings generally draw less than half a dozen spectators. Wednesday’s drew a full house with more than 20 people, several of them lawyers for the interested parties. If the agreement gets court approval, it will end years of litigation.
Attorney Andrew Simpson represented the commission. Attorney Joel Holt represented the V.I. government. Attorney Miles Plaskett represented VIGL Operations. Attorney Todd Newman represented TRAXCO and Treasure Bay VI. Anton Kuipers also spoke on behalf of TRAXCO and Treasure Bay.
Kuipers, general manager of TRAXCO parent company Treasure Bay V.I., the same company that operates Divi Carina Bay Casino, told the commission, “These agreements are the culmination of months of hard work by all parties.”
Plaskett said, “VIGL is prepared to do everything necessary to make this work.”
At a V.I. Senate hearing in February last year many of the litigious grievances were outlined. TRAXCO had been threatened by the government with eviction from the racetrack on St. Croix. TRAXCO countered with a suit saying it had a legitimate contract extension to stay.
At that hearing, Flamboyant Horsemen’s Assoc. attorney Kye Walker and horsemen, including horse owner and trainer Randal Knight, argued that TRAXCO was pressuring the horsemen to take reduced purses, delaying expanding its slot machines, failed to make contractually required repairs, and failed to hold races to put pressure on the horsemen to come to the table.
Only seven races were held at the track in 2015, down from the usual 12 to 14.
Griffith said that VIGL was agreeing to have 18 races each year in the first three years that it operates the franchise and more than that in following years. He added the purses at each race will be in the $100,000 range, although in previous races the purses have been as low as $15,000.
Griffith said a signed agreement had been reached with the St. Thomas Horse Racing Commission and his company was in the final stages of signing an agreement with the St. Croix Horse Racing Commission.
St. Croix Horse Racing Commission member Wayne Biggs testified that his commission had been part of the negotiated agreements from “beginning to end” and urged the Casino Commission to approve the agreements “so we can get horse racing back here to what it was.”
Holt said the agreements involved “multiple parties and multiple issues,” He added that getting the Casino Commission’s approval was “a critical step, but certainly not the last step.”
Usie Richards, who was sitting in his first meeting as a Casino Commission member, had questions for Griffith about his companies other project – slot machines in the Hotel Caravelle in Christiansted.
The license for that casino was granted in February with the stipulation that about 40 more rooms would be added within 30 months. So far, construction on those rooms has not commenced. Richards said he was raising the issue because retiring commission members were adamant that that stipulation had to be met.
Griffith said that “complications” had arisen concerning the acquisition of the land for the rooms (the property presently used as a parking lot between Hotel Caravel and the Holger Danske Hotel). He said that there is an alternative plan. Griffith said that adding the rooms anywhere in the Christiansted Enterprise Zone would satisfy the commission’s stipulation, adding that he was not at liberty to give more details about these plans.
After he was pressed by Richards for more information and unable to give it, Commission Chair Violet Anne Golden asked that Griffith give updates to the commission so members could be sure that the process was continuing.
The Casino Commission approved the extension of VIGL Operations casino license for one year.
The Casino Commission also approved Wednesday employee licenses, casino key employee licenses and casino servicing entity licenses, hotel employee registrations, and employee work permits.