Jay Watson, chairman of the V.I. Horse Racing Commission, said this week the board needs time and money to fulfill its mission of formulating and writing the regulations that will bring the local industry up to U.S. standards.
Regulations to be fine-tuned include rules on anti-doping, revenues, betting, staffing and guidelines for racehorses.
So far, there are no deadlines or target dates to get horse racing up and running because VIGL Operations, LLC, needs a number of permits to rebuild facilities on St. Croix and St. Thomas after the 2017 hurricanes. The important Coastal Zone Management permit for St. Croix is one of a few in place. VIGL is the slot machine company approved by the V.I. government to run the territory’s two racetracks.
VIGL has committed to a $27 million investment to rebuild grandstands, parking lots and other structures. They lease the racetrack land from the V.I. Port Authority.
Horse Racing Commission board member Ronald Phillips said the commission plans to meet with VIGL soon to discuss what permits are needed and their timelines. The company also will need a permit from the Federal Aviation Agency to rebuild a fence to FAA specifications, he added. The FAA was deeded the property during the Cuban Missile Crisis in the 1960’s, he said.
“VIGL has done their part,” Phillips said.
One of the biggest hurdles the commission must jump, Watson said, is obtaining funding from the government for staffing and to hire judges, chief stewards, and other roles.
“The commission should be the authority on anything to do with horse racing and we’re requesting assistance from the Legislature,” Watson said.
During a legislative hearing last September, it was reported that there should be around 35 employees at each racetrack to run approximately 100 races a year.
“Everybody wants what’s best for racing in the territory,” Watson said. “I’m not going to short change anything.”
Watson referred to Gov. Albert Bryan’s State of the Territory address and his statement that the economy is “distressed.” While horse racing has not been seen as part of economic growth in the territory, it can be as it is in other locations, he said.
There has been misinformation in the community regarding when racing will begin again, according to Watson.
“Unless it’s in an official statement from the commission, don’t believe it. We’re trying to be as transparent as possible and will release the information,” Watson said.
At a recent press conference, members of the commission were introduced to the community, including Watson, Phillips, Henry Schjang, Sheldon Turnbull and Dr. Laura Palminteri. Commissioner Calvert White of Sports, Parks and Recreation is the ex officio member. There are three vacancies on the nine-member commission.