Although Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. announced in March an agreement to allow horse racing to proceed on St. Thomas and St. Croix, the Horse Racing Commission heard Monday that no timeline for opening the racetracks has been set.
Jason Williams, representing VIGL Operations, LLC, told the Commission he could not commit to a timeline, but he was encouraged by recent meetings with the administration. In 2016 VIGL entered into a 20-year lease franchise agreement with the V.I. government to promote and conduct racing activities in the territory. A lawsuit between the V.I. government, Southland Gaming, and VIGL has blocked the redevelopment of the territory’s two racetracks.
Sheldon Turnbull, a member of the Commission, said, “Basically, you have no information for us.” He asked, “Can we get an idea about what these talks are about?”
Williams said, “No.”
When pushed about what had to be done before the track on St. Croix could be opened, Williams said, “There is a lot from the physical aspect that needs to take place.” He said the running surface was gone, and rails around it were deteriorating.
It was noted by Hugo Hodge, chairman of the Commission, that the Senate Parks and Recreation Committee would hear updates on the status of horseracing.
“After so many setbacks, it is very important that we ensure that efforts to renovate our horse tracks and re-establish drag racing are moving forward,” Sen. Samuel Carrión, chairman of the committee, said in a press release.
In his prepared testimony for that hearing, Calvert White, commissioner of Sports, Parks and Recreation, writes that the March hearing’s primary purpose was to ask the Legislature to amend the franchise agreement with VIGL to allow Southland Gaming of the Virgin Islands to develop the Clinton E. Phipps racetrack which the Senate did.
He adds, “Since that time, I have seen minimal to no movement on the track by VIGL. It was my understanding that once we were able to remove all the horses from the stables, construction at the facility would continue shortly after. I cannot speak or speculate why work has not resumed to date.”
Southland Gaming presented a written report to the Commission Monday that highlighted cleanup efforts and the possibility of racing during construction. Southland’s civil engineers and development team were at the racetrack on May 16 and 17 and had discussions with a few horse owners. According to the report, “Before construction starts, SGVI will work with the government to enter into an Access Agreement to memorialize SGVI’s possession of and access to the property for purposes of construction. SGVI is hopeful that this process can be finalized in the very near future.”
Back in 2016, when then Gov. Kenneth Mapp first announced the deal he had arranged with VIGL and proposed changes to V.I. law to further the plan, he gave a timeline of two years for 40 percent completion.