Chicago-based Revolutionary Racing officially bought Virginia’s Colonial Downs race track Wednesday for more than $20 million, touting the purchase as a major step toward reopening the shuttered facility and revitalizing Virginia’s dormant horse-racing industry.
The new owners said the deal closed Wednesday was a direct result of the General Assembly’s decision to pass legislation to allow new, slots-like betting terminals that generate millions in revenue to support the track, located east of Richmond in New Kent County. Gov. Ralph Northam signed the bill into law earlier this month.
“A vibrant and successful Colonial Downs is critical to ensuring that horse racing can thrive and grow in the commonwealth,” said Larry Lucas, chairman of Revolutionary Racing. “Horse racing can be traced to the earliest years of the Colony of Virginia. And every Virginian takes great pride in this being the birthplace of Secretariat, the most famous horse to ever take the track. Now with this purchase we are well on our way to bringing back this historic industry.”
A news release announcing the sale did not list the exact purchase price, but said it was “in excess of $20 million.”
The Revolutionary Racing group is led by businessmen with extensive backgrounds in gaming and casinos.
Lucas is the former chairman of online wagering company Youbet.com, an online wagering platform that was sold to Kentucky’s Churchill Downs. Prentice Salter, Revolutionary Racing’s CEO, has developed off-track betting sites in the Dominican Republican and previously worked as an executive at the Sands Macao casino and resort, according to the Revolutionary Racing website.
Other partners in the venture are Los Angeles-based Peninsula Pacific and JNB Gaming out of Iowa.
There has been no live racing at the track since 2014, when the facility’s developer and longtime owner, Jacobs Entertainment Inc., surrendered its license to the Virginia Racing Commission over a dispute with the Virginia Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, a nonprofit that represents Thoroughbred horse owners, trainers and breeders.
With the track now under new ownership, Revolutionary Racing can begin process of obtaining a new license from the racing commission, the state body that regulates horse-racing and off-track betting parlors.
An economic study commissioned by Revolutionary Racing said that when the reopened Colonial Downs facility reaches “full capacity” in 2022, it could produce 1,400 jobs and an annual economic impact of almost $350 million and generate $41.6 million per year in state and local tax revenue.
According to the analysis, most of that revenue would come from historical horse race wagering machines, which let gamblers bet on races that have already been run. The terminals hide the names of the horses and the location and date of the race until the user locks in a wager by predicting how the horses will finish. The machines can display the horses’ odds at the time the race was run, injecting an element of skill that makes the game slightly different from the pure luck of slots.
The General Assembly authorized the machines earlier this year with minimal fuss, a break from the state’s long history of resisting casino-style gambling. Northam instructed the racing commission to place “reasonable” restrictions on the historic horse racing terminals, including setting a maximum limit on the number of machines. The commission has not yet adopted those regulations, but that process could determine how big the new-look Colonial Downs facility will be.
State officials may soon be asked to OK a full-blown casino just a few miles from the Colonial Downs site. The Pamunkey Indian Tribe recently announced it has secured 600 acres in New Kent for a possible $700 million casino, potentially setting up a race with Revolutionary Racing to see who can get their facility up and running first.
Revolutionary Racing said it intends to release more details in the coming months about its plans to reopen the track.
Debbie Easter, president of the Virginia Equine Alliance and Executive Director of the Virginia Thoroughbred Association, said the sale will bring back jobs and dollars that have been pushed to other states.
“Horse racing is coming back to Virginia,” Easter said. “And we could not be more excited.”