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Some Senators Sever Support for Slots at Doc's

Nov. 15, 2005 — Rumors that TRAXCO Inc. had closed up shop and fired its employees angered senators Monday, causing them to send a bill requesting a use variance back to committee.
The variance would allow for the operation of closed loop gaming devices at the Randall "Doc" James Racetrack on St. Croix. TRAXCO, the company that operates and manages the property, said the installation of these devices would help get the company back on solid financial footing, as they are losing about $650,000 in revenue annually from the track. (See "Slot Machines at St. Croix Horse Track Questioned").
Installation of the devices—video slot machines that are controlled from the Divi Carina Bay Resort—goes against the Casino Control Act, which does not allow for the operation of gaming devices outside of hotel properties.
Sen. Ronald Russell said Monday he introduced legislation granting TRAXCO's request for a variance "as a favor" to the company. "They should feel privileged that we're even considering it, since the variance is not allowed by the Casino Act," he said. "But, instead, they've threatened us by shutting down their operations, by using a former senator to bamboozle the Legislature into helping them. I'm at a loss for words as to why they would do this."
Russell referred to former Sen. Adelbert Bryan, who was seen with TRAXCO representatives at Monday's full session, as well as the session held last Thursday.
Despite these objections, Russell still pushed senators to approve the variance, which he said would bring more jobs and revenue to St. Croix. The bill also required TRAXCO to pay a 15 percent tax on all money coming in from the "racino," which would be divided among the V.I. Casino Commission, the Horsemen's Association, and the Horseracing Commission.
Sen. Norman Jn Baptiste also supported the bill, saying gaming allowed on racetracks is bringing in significant revenues for other islands, as well as areas of the mainland. "We should make a move on this and stop pussyfooting the issue," he said.
Statements made by Sens. Juan Figueroa-Serville and Lorraine L. Berry seemed to seal the vote for other senators, however.
Figueroa-Serville said the Casino Act is specifically designed to boost the hotel industry in St. Croix, and the variance would "kill investor confidence" for proposed developments such as Williams and Punch, which depend on casinos to attract tourists and bring in revenue.
"What is it going to say to these investors when we pass a law taking away business from them," he questioned.
Berry agreed, stating that St. Croix is "so close" to getting at least one five star hotel which will offer tourists all kinds of amenities — and create thousands of jobs for residents, as opposed to the 35 to 40 jobs created by TRAXCO.
Berry added St. Croix would soon be a venue for the annual cruise ship convention, along with a multitude of other events. "How are we going to host these things if we don't have the hotels to put people in," she asked. "If we expand the gaming statute to include non-hotel entities, the investors we have are just going to pull out, and where does that leave St. Croix?"
In response to the rumor that TRAXCO had shut down operations, Berry said the company just has to understand that senators can't go "around creating special interest legislation to suit one party."
Berry said she would like to see the bill go to the to the Economic Development and Planning committee — chaired by Sen. Neville James — for further analysis. "It's really not the time for us to make this kind of decision," she said. "And, we also have to know exactly why TRAXCO is losing so much money."
A motion to satisfy Berry's request was made by Sen. Louis P. Hill. Sens. Craig W. Barshinger, Berry, Roosevelt C. David, Figueroa-Serville, James, Hill, and Russell voted in favor of the motion, while Sens. Liston Davis, Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg, Jn Baptiste, Shawn-Michael Malone, Usie R. Richards, and Celestino A. White Sr. were opposed. Sens. Pedro "Pete" Encarnacion and Terrence "Positive" Nelson were absent.
TRAXCO officials set a press conference for 2:30 p.m. at the race track.
In other action, senators approved a bill appropriating $150,000 from the General Fund to fix the air-conditioning unit at the Ivanna Eudora Kean High School's gymnasium, along with several lease agreements between the Department of Property and Procurement and:
–Deryk Mohamed doing business as D.M. Woodworking.
— Courtesy Car/Jeep Rental, Inc.
–Kent Corporation.
–Tropical Marine, Inc.
–Robert Tapia doing business as Ine's Place 24hrs.
A lease agreement between the government and Walter Seipel and Associates LLC for an office building across the street from Nisky Center was not approved.
All senators were present at Monday's session except Encarnacion and Nelson.

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