While there is still hope for a resurgence of horse racing in the U.S. Virgin Islands, though there has been word of an agreement in a court battle between Southland Gaming and VIGL Operations LLC, the territory’s two horse tracks are still closed.
During a hearing on Monday of the Committee on Youth, Sports and Recreation, Flamboyant Horsemen Association Treasurer Denis Lynch II told the senators it has been a continuous battle to keep the hopes of horse racing alive.
The “absence of horse racing,” he said, “has led to a systematic downturn for the people of the Virgin Islands. Significant hardships are still at the forefront of this tedious battle. It has been an endless source of frustration for those who continue to feed and nurture in hopes of an alternate sight.”
More than two weeks ago, Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. said the two companies – Southland and VIGL – had reached an agreement over the use of video lottery terminals contained within the St. Thomas racetrack, but Sen. Kurt Vialet said nothing has been made official yet.
“To date, we have not seen any contract ratification from Government House as it relates to horse racing,” Vialet said. “The two horse racing associations cannot actually speak as to what is the status because it literally lies in the Government House hands. We have been all over, we have debated XYZ, and the Senate ratified a contract … There was movement on developing the tracks, then a lawsuit was filed and Judge Gomez [District Judge Curtis Gomez] ruled in favor of Southland Gaming and everything stopped. And we have not been able to move from point A to point B since that litigation,” Vialet said.
The slow-moving nature of litigation has caused great frustration for those within the sport, Lynch said.
Having been to the last three Senate hearings pertaining to horse racing in the territory, Lynch said, “The message has been echoed and transcribed as dire and impoverished. Promises were made, promises were broken and accountability for these actions was nonexistent. With ambiguous contractual language that stated no definite timeline as to when stipulations should be in place, only placed a list of provisions needed to commence races, this entire event leaves a lot to be desired about the state of horse racing.”
Vialet said he has suggested that Southland Gaming should be permitted to run the St. Thomas racetrack.
“My suggestion has been that since VIGL is willing to continue with the St. Croix racetrack, that Southland Gaming should be given the St. Thomas racetrack so there is no more litigation to be dealt with on the island of St. Croix. St. Croix should not be held back because of litigation on St. Thomas,” Vialet said.
The time that has dwindled due to the court case has impacted not only the sport as a whole but the horses and people who take care of those horses.
“Horses continue to die daily, primarily due to lack of exercise, poor grazing-no grazing options and financially limited provision of feed, general health checks, nutrition and young weanlings are living in a penurious state. The hardship imposed on the horsemen during this process cannot be quantified,” Lynch said.
Without the resurrection of the dying sport, the horsemen lack the finances to “maintain equine athletes and their environment,” Lynch said. He added that horse owners, on average, spend upward of $400 each week on horse feed and maintenance.
Sen. Javan James Sr. said he could understand the horsemen’s plight, but the Senate does not have the power to fix the problem.
“It is beyond the control of the Senate. It is in the hands of the executive and judicial branch. So, either the court can settle it or the governor can step up and renegotiate,” James said.