Horse Racing Commission members may have hoped for a lightning finish as Rich Strike had, coming up the inside lane and winning the Kentucky Derby last week. However, at the Commission meeting Friday, it looked like the two contestants running for six years to get horse racing back in the territory were limping down the track, maybe around the second bend and maybe not.
Southland Gaming’s Shaine Gaspard gave an update to the Commission concerning its project on St. Thomas. The Chief Executive Officer said little more than Southland was working on plans. He said engineers and architects were coming to the territory next week to look at the site and see how it could be developed. When asked by Commission member Sheldon Turnbull for a timeline, he said he could give none.
The Commission had only two items of concern on its agenda. One was the update from Southland, and the second was an update from VIGL. No one from VIGL showed up to give an update. Reportedly, the company spokesperson told the Commission chair Hugo Hodge there had not been adequate notice. VIGL operates Hotel Caravelle in Christiansted. According to a government press release, it has invested $17 million to rebuild, operate and manage the Randall “Doc” James Race Track on St. Croix and the Clinton E. Phipps Race Track on St. Thomas.
Commission member Laura Palminiteri said another meeting should be set in a week or two to give VIGL enough notice and Southland to get reports from its architects. Members questioned whether a two-week wait would be a mistake because a Commission representative has been asked to testify to the Senate on the status of horse racing in the territory. The Commission set its meeting for May 23. The Senate hearing regarding the state of the horse racing, “including but not limited to the franchise and development agreements for the Randall “Doc” James Racetrack and the Clinton E. Phipps Racetrack,” is May 24.
A lawsuit between the V.I. government, Southland Gaming, and VIGL has blocked the redevelopment of the territory’s two race tracks for six years. A possible settlement of the suit was announced two years ago, but nothing happened, and in March this year, Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. submitted a bill to address again settlement of the lawsuit. In 2016, VIGL agreed to renovate and operate both tracks and provide race purses in exchange for operating slot machine parlors at both tracks.
Southland objected and filed suit, arguing it had an exclusive contract for slot machines on St. Thomas.
Although the government has pushed for the re-establishment of the race tracks, some critics have seen downsides to expanded gambling opportunities.