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Tuesday, June 18, 2024
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Governor Signs Racino Bill, Smoking Ban

Some of the larger pieces of legislation passed by the Senate during an April 15 session were signed into law this week by Gov. John deJongh Jr., including bills restricting smoking in public places and bringing racetrack casinos, or racinos, to the territory’s two tracks.
The racino bill would allow for gaming — whether through casino-style slot machines on St. Croix or video lottery terminals (VLTs) on St. Thomas — at racetracks on both islands. Locally, the concept of racinos has been stirring controversy for years, and during the most recent hearings in the Senate, one of the primary concerns was that the 22.5-percent Racetrack Gaming Tax initially proposed in the bill would greatly deplete the St. Croix racetrack’s gross monthly revenues.
The bill was recently amended in the Senate’s Rules and Judiciary Committee, spreading the tax out in a sliding scale from 16 percent per year on gross revenues up to $12 million, to 22.5 percent per year on gross revenues above $20 million. It was further amended during the Senate’s full session on April 15, delineating the sliding tax scale for St. Croix only, and setting other provisions for St. Thomas.
The amendment—offered by Sens. Celestino A. White Sr., Carlton "Ital Dowe, Usie R. Richards and Patrick Simeon Sprauve—states that 4.5 percent of collections from VLTs set up at the Clinton Phipps racetrack would be deposited into a newly established St. Thomas Horse Race Revenue Fund, to be used for racing purses.
Another 6 percent of the money will be divided equally between the Horse Racing Commission, the V.I. Olympic Committee, and Housing, Parks and Recreation.
In a letter sent Monday to Senate President Louis P. Hill, deJongh said he supported the intent of the bill, but urged senators to work with key stakeholders to solve a couple of conflicts brought out by the legislation.
DeJongh explained that the bill conflicts with some policy provisions of the Casino Control Act and creates a conflict between the authority of the V.I. Lottery and Casino Control commissions. As it currently stands, VLTs are only legal on St. Thomas, while casinos are only legal on St. Croix. The bill, appears to grant a casino license to the St. Thomas racetrack, and does not exclude VLTs installed there from falling under the purview of the Casino Control Commission.
"This could not have been the intent of the Legislature as video lottery at the Phipps Racetrack has already been permitted under the law for some time and is subject to regulation by the V.I. Lottery Commission," deJongh wrote.
The governor also signed into a law the V.I. Smoke-Free Act, which he said "seeks to protect the health of all Virgin Islanders from the very real dangers of secondhand smoke." However, he also that some of the bill’s definitions — such as the one for "enclosed area" — are too broad and need to be refined.
Mandates for business owners to post non-smoking signs inside and outside their establishment may also be "overly burdensome," while charging people who violate the law with a misdemeanor is "troublesome" since it appears to "criminalize smoking," deJongh wrote.
"I, therefore, urge the Legislature to promptly and fully consider making the appropriate amendments to make this law the best it can be for the benefit of our residents," he added.
DeJongh also approved bills:
— praising aviation pioneer Gen. Charles Blair, and naming the St. Thomas seaplane terminal after him;
— rezoning nearly 2.5 acres on Flagberry Hill on St. Thomas from R-1 (residential low-density) to R-3 to bring them in line with the zoning designation given to surrounding parcels; and
— granting a use variance that would allow Springline Architects to build an office near Pavilions and Pools in Smith Bay.
The governor vetoed a third request for two parcels near the Bovoni Landfill, whose owners were seeking to have the land rezoned from R-1 (residential low density) to C (commercial) and W-2 (waterfront industrial).
DeJongh also vetoed a bill authorizing the Public Finance Authority to enter into a memorandum of understanding with the University of the Virgin Islands and the Career and the Education Department to allow the King’s Alley Hotel to be used as a training center for students hoping to enter the tourism industry.
"While I support innovative concepts such as that which underlies this bill, it is simply premature to achieve its goals," the governor wrote. DeJongh added that the hotel’s size and limited facilities make it "insufficient" for a proper training program, and said the university’s hotel and restaurant management program is only in the "exploration phase."
Also vetoed was a bill amending the rules affecting enterprise zones and giving economic planners more tools with which to try to redevelop areas of Frederiksted, Christiansted and Charlotte Amalie by extending them tax breaks and other economic benefits.

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