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. 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.” Other partners in the venture are Peninsula Pacific and JNB Gaming.
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.
An economic study commissioned by Revolutionary Racing said the reopened Colonial Downs facility 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, though some lawmakers voted against the bill which anti-gambling advocates called a major expansion of casino-style gaming.
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 horse-racing 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.”