Opening day at Colonial Downs

People used the machines in Rosie’s Gaming Emporium at Colonial Downs in New Kent County on the opening day of live horse racing on Aug. 8.

Colonial Downs Group said Tuesday that the 15-day horse racing schedule that ended Saturday resulted in $17.5 million wagered and $7.4 million in purses for race winners, both increases from the last year of races before the track closed.

The $17.5 million wagered represented a 15% increase over 2013, with 85% of the bets coming from outside Virginia. The purse total was up 55% over 2013, the company said.

“By providing the highest level of purses, you in turn get the best horses and horsemen competing at Colonial Downs,” Jill Byrne, vice president of racing at Colonial Downs, said at a news conference Tuesday in the offices of the Virginia Tourism Corporation.

State officials and representatives from the horse industry appeared with Colonial Downs executives to tout the company’s impact on Virginia since purchasing the shuttered track in April 2018. As of September, the company says it has spent $235 million in Virginia and hired more than 900 people.

“I really think that Colonial’s reopening and the quality of racing that took place really is the best story to happen in thoroughbred racing this year,” said Jeb Hannum, executive director of the Virginia Equine Alliance. “It’s really an extraordinary thing that’s happened. Not a lot of tracks are being revitalized in the United States.”

The revived venture is funded largely through the 1,450 slots-like gambling machines installed in Colonial Downs-operated casinos in New Kent County, Richmond and the town of Vinton .

The facilities — marketed under the brand Rosie’s — mainly offer historical horse racing machines, which resemble traditional slot machines but are powered by an archive of past horse races. The General Assembly voted to legalize the machines in 2018, but Colonial Downs is the only company licensed to operate them.

The Rosie’s facilities could potentially expand to include other types of gambling if state lawmakers choose to legalize full-blown casinos or sports betting.

In August, Colonial Downs saw slight dips in historical horse racing wagers at all three of its locations. The total amount wagered dropped from $142.8 million in July to $138.3 million in August, according to the company’s latest financial report, indicating some of the machines’ novelty may be wearing off.

The report shows that the profit from the machines — divided among the company, state and local governments and, eventually, the racing industry — rose from about $10 million in July to $10.6 million in August.

Several top Colonial Downs officials attended Tuesday’s news conference, but left before reporters could ask questions. Byrne deferred inquiries about the historical horse racing machines to officials who were no longer in the room.

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