Jan. 22, 2003 – True to his word in his State of the Territory speech, Gov. Charles W. Turnbull on Wednesday sent the 25th Legislature a bill to repeal the legalization of video lottery terminal operations in the territory.
Turnbull in his first term as governor vetoed legislation legalizing VLT's on three different occasions, the most recent last summer, of a bill providing for their operation only in the St. Thomas-St. John district. On Dec. 23, the 24th Legislature in its final session overrode that veto.
A Government House release on Wednesday said Turnbull is urging Senate President David Jones to "convene the Committee of the Whole without delay to repeal the legislation," or to assign the bill to committee "for action prior to Jan. 31."
In his letter to Jones, the governor said he is still of the opinion he expressed in vetoing VLT legislation in May of 2001. At that time, he wrote: "While I approve the concept of expanding lottery schemes which are economically beneficial to the territory and the Virgin Islands people, passage of this bill is precipitous and runs afoul of the regulatory scheme established by the Casino Control Act" and of the V.I. Code.
Turnbull said that restricting VLT's to St. Thomas and St. John, while casino gaming is legal only on St. Croix, nonetheless poses "a significant threat to the emerging casino industry on St. Croix." Specifically, he said, the override of his veto "has once again jeopardized the Robin Bay and Golden Gaming projects, as well as the planned Divi Carina Bay Casino expansion."
The planned half-billion-dollar Seven Hills Beach Resort and Casino at Robin Bay and the planned Golden Gaming hotel, casino and golf course at Great Pond Bay have received provisional pre-approval from the Casino Control Commission in the form of "reserved" casino licenses. The Divi is under a commission mandate to expand its hotel by 50 rooms this year.
Executives of the casino enterprises have been uniform in their opposition to VLT's anywhere in the territory. Opposition also has come from community members concerned about minors having easy access to VLT's.
The governor also said in his letter to Jones: "I believe the sponsors of the video lottery terminal legislation may, in fact, have the best interests of the territory at heart, and view this as a positive economic stimulus. However, we must be mindful of the potential adverse effect of establishing certain gaming schemes in our community, especially those which threaten or endanger much-needed hotel projects on the island of St. Croix."
Jones is among those who voted for the veto override and has consistently been an advocate of VLT operations in the territory, saying they represent a needed source of revenue for the government.
The Democratic Party Territorial Committee on Jan. 11 called for repeal of the VLT legislation, saying it was taking the stand because of a policy of "special emphasis on St. Croix's economic development."
Turnbull is a Democrat; so is Jones. The new Democratic majority in the 25th Legislature also includes three other senators who voted for the override: Lorraine Berry, Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg and Emmett Hansen II.
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