Bills setting new anti-doping regulations for horse racing and consolidating the two territorial horse racing commissions into a single commission were sent Thursday to the full Senate for final votes.
Senators considered the bills during a special session in May, but sent them to committee for testimony, debate and amendment. Gov. Kenneth Mapp proposed the bills last year as part of a package of changes to V.I. law and contractual agreements giving VIGL an exclusive franchise to run the territory’s two horse racing tracks. VIGL would also get to operate slot machine parlors at both tracks. In exchange, it is required to invest $27 million in upgrades to the two horse tracks.
In December, when the Legislature approved the deal, senators declined to act on the ant-doping and commission consolidation bills but said they would hold hearings on them in the coming year.
In May, Mapp called a special session to consider the measures, saying failure to approve the anti-doping rules could jeopardize the deal with VIGL to improve the tracks. Senators sent the bills to committee for more testimony, debate and amendment.
In June, both bills were sent out of committee, to the Rules and Judiciary Committee.
Sen. Kurt Vialet (D-STX) said anti-doping rules had to be in place in order for V.I. horse races to qualify for simulcasting. Simulcasting the races would broaden exposure and gambling opportunities on V.I. races.
Former St. Croix Horse Racing Commission member John Clenance and others testified that the bill to consolidate the two racing commissions needed to be changed to clarify what roles various entities had, to remove the Department of Agriculture from it, and to allocate funding for commission operations, not just commission members.
“If the consolidation is approved it may well have an adverse effect on the timeliness of the completion of duties by this very important regulatory body. This one commission will now be tasked with the increased responsibilities of enforcing the anti-doping program in addition to the duties performed in the past by the two district commission,” Clenance said.
St. Croix Horse Racing Commission Chair Wayne Biggs Jr. said provisions to pay commissioners $500 for each race day don’t make sense because a steward selected by the commission actually runs the race and commissioners are not working that day. Plus, he said other officials, including the chief steward and race judges need to be paid.
“The chief steward runs race day, the commissions don’t run the actual race day,” Biggs said.
The franchise agreement for the track included payments to cover the operations of the commission and staff on race days, Biggs said. It was not clear if he meant the franchise for existing St. Croix operator Traxco or incoming operator VIGL.
An amendment addressed some of these concerns and reduced the commissioner’s allotment.
The committee approved the amended bill consolidating the two horse racing commissions, then approved the anti-doping bill. Both were approved without opposition.
Voting for the bill as amended were: Vialet, Sens. Marvin Blyden (D-STT), Jean Forde (D-STT) and Sammuel Sanes (D-STX). There was no opposition. Absent were Sens. Myron Jackson (D-STT), Janette Millin Young (D-STT) and Positive Nelson (ICM-STX).