Four Republican members and one Independent member (who has consistently voted against every piece of horse racing legislation placed before him) of the House of Delegates General Laws’ Subcommittee on ABC/Gaming voted to “lay on the table” Senate Bill 513. The proposed legislation would have allowed Colonial Downs to conduct “historical horse racing” at is facilities.

Republican Subcommittee chairman Del. Tom Gear and Democrat Del. William Barlow supported the legislation opposing the move to table.

The measure effectively killed the bill for the regular session of the 2010 General Assembly. Whether or not it reappears in the same or different form in a later session remains to be seen.

According to our sources, Sen. Tommy Norment (R), who co-patroned the compromise bill with Sen. Mark Herring (D), was not pleased with the dismissal by his comrades from the House of Delegates.

I point out the political affiliations of the subcommittee members as two things are at play here.

First, the Speaker of the House has long made it clear he has no tolerance for any bill that helps the horse industry (or the Transportation Fund) via gambling. He has consistently put his moral and political opposition to gaming in front of the well being of his constituents.

As he is the Speaker of the House, every citizen of the Commonwealth is, in fact, his constituent. It is extremely disappointing that the Speaker continues to use his position of power to prioritize his personal agenda at the expense of the racing and breeding industries and some 5 million Virginians who drive on our state’s roads.

His opposition to legislation that would help “promote, sustain and grow” the native industry mirrors the voting record of our current Governor who opposed every piece of parimutuel legislation placed before him when he was a member of the General Assembly.

Subsequently, the very make-up of the ABC/Gaming subcommittee seems to lead to a discouragingly predictable outcome. The subcommittee consists of five Republicans, one Democrat and the aforementioned Independent who has never supported our industry.

And yet, many folks in our industry continue to support Republican candidates thinking that what happens on the state level is somehow relevant to how they feel about national policy and politics. In truth, there is no meaningful relationship between what is happening in Washington on issues like health care, taxes or foreign wars and what is happening in Richmond. Linking them together is clearly counter-productive to our industry.

Just the same, members of our industry continue to support state-wide candidates who either don’t understand what drives the economic engine of our industry (or how it supplements agribusiness and preserves green space and our rural traditions), or who simply place their conservative anti-gambling agenda in front of the well-being of so many Virginians involved in the parimutuel industry – an industry that they, their august political comrades and the citizens of Virginia approved and ultimately created.

If you’re thinking “that doesn’t really make sense,” I assure you it’s not you. It doesn’t make sense, but chalk it up to the conundrum that is our democratic process. Our forefathers never said it was perfect…

Secondly, there is a movement afoot in the General Assembly to balance Virginia’s budget by cutting spending and not by generating new revenues. When it comes to new or higher taxes, it’s easy to applaud this philosophy.

Some of those who voted “no” yesterday would base their position on their opposition to using “gambling revenue” to solve a funding problem. I find this perplexing. It’s called the lottery and Virginia uses gambling revenue to supplement the General Fund every day of the year.

One has to ask what is the point of either the lottery or parimutuel wagering? Both provide some entertainment, while parimutuel provides some real economic activity (jobs, tourism, care of the horses, etc.). Both also provide revenue for the State – that’s simply part of what gambling is, in any state, a revenue producer. So I find that justification quite hollow and a glaring contradiction to our daily reality.

However, while SB513 would create new “tax revenue” for the Transportation Fund, it would also have had a dramatic impact on the racing and breeding industry. A bit of a “forest for the trees” scenario working there, and our industry just isn’t important enough to the members of the General Assembly to demand any sort of compromise on the bigger issue.

Am I oversimplifying the issues? Yes, but you get the point.

Having said all of that, we appreciate all the calls, letters and emails that so many of you sent the Speaker of the House and the members of the subcommittee in support of SB513.

One of these days… — Glenn Petty