Dec. 23, 2005 – Barbara Shattles, vice president of TRAXCO, and Dennis Brow, TRAXCO's general manager, said at a press conference Friday that they would no longer pursue a variance to have slot machines at Randall "Doc" James Racetrack.
Brow also said that TRAXCO's vision of what would become of the racetrack had also changed. He said that there would be no restaurant and no entertainment. Different avenues to generate revenue would be pursued, including establishing off-track betting sites on St. Croix and St. Thomas.
Shattles emphasized that TRAXCO would meet all its contractual obligations at the racetrack franchise, but nothing else.
"You saw that dirty ugly fence out there," she said. "It is going to stay."
TRAXCO has been trying to get a variance for several months from the Virgin Islands Senate to have 80 slot machines connected to Divi Bay Casino located at the racetrack. Treasure Bay V.I. Corp. owns the Divi Casino and TRAXCO. (See "TRAXCO and Senators Go Another Round").
Brow started the press conference by reading a statement that said it was never TRAXCO's intention to turn the racetrack into a full-fledged "racino." And that appeared to be what senator's had in mind when many of them suggested that instead of passing the variance for TRAXCO, the Senate needed to address the whole issue of a racino. Brow said slot machines would have enabled TRAXCO to create not a racino but a first-class racetrack. Shattles said that establishing a racino would have the parent company competing against itself.
Brow has been quoted often as saying that the racetrack needed the machines because it was losing $72,000 a month.
Kurt Vialet, who was at the press conference and is a principal at St. Croix's Education Complex High School, threw that figure back at Brow and said, "So, you need Crucians to lose $72,000 a month so you can run your racetrack."
Shattles shot back that many of the slot players look at what they are doing as entertainment and she said the average visitors to the casino spends little more that a couple would spend going to a movie.
Vialet, however, said a problem gambler keeps coming back. Shattles said only 2 to 3 percent of casino gamblers are problem gamblers.
"We don't need any more gambling here unless it comes with hotels," Vialet said after the gathering.
He said that everything – such as the closing of the racetrack just before the Thanksgiving races – was just hardball strategy on Divi's part. (See "TRAXCO Shuts Down Operations at Racetrack"). He said Divi is making plenty of money.
"They just wanted to scare the Senators.'Oh, we are going to lose a tradition. We will sign anything," Vialet said.
Shattles also came under criticism from a horse owner who said that politicians believe they know everything; and Shattles believed she knew everything so that was why there was no resolution.
"I did handle this poorly and I am sorry," Shattles said.
She added that she just was not used to people telling her one thing one day and a completely different thing the next day.
Although the Senate appropriated $45,000 in purse money for the Christmas Second Day races, neither Brow nor Shattles would confirm that there would be Christmas races. Shattles said that could only be confirmed when the "check is in our hands."
"We are ready to race," she said.
The Senate has put Ira Hobson, commissioner of Housing Parks and Recreation, in charge of working out the agreement with TRAXCO and delivering the check. Agreements were passed back and forth Thursday and Friday.
Since the government is supplying the purse money, some have suggested that it should get the gate receipts from the race. Brow said he sees it differently.
"We are incurring all the expenses of putting this race on – getting the track ready, hiring security, having an ambulance," he said. "This is our business. This should be our profit."
"We did not ask the government for this money," she said. "They came to us and said , If we give you the money will you put the races on? And we said yes."
Gate receipts seem to be part of TRAXCO's problem. TRAXCO is required as part of its franchise agreement with the government to put on 16 races a year. Brow said that four of the events – the traditional holiday races – draw good crowds.
"On the other 12 races we are lucky to get 300 people in there," he said, adding that more than 3,000 people generally attend the holiday races.
TRAXCO plans to hold a Three Kings Day race on Jan. 8 without the help of the government. It also plans to boost its income by placing off-track betting machines in three or four locations on St. Croix early next month. Brow said negotiations are going to have off track betting machines placed on St. Thomas also.
Divi Bay Casino is required to place a certain amount of its profit in an escrow account. Money from that account has to be invested in projects on St. Croix that are approved by the Casino Control Commission. The $400,000 Divi originally invested in TRAXCO came from that account. There is reportedly about $600,000 presently remaining in the escrow account, Shattles said.
"When we invest that money, it is going to be in a project that does not involve any action by the Senate," she said.
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