Manassas Park voters soundly defeated a contentious off-track betting measure Tuesday that would have allowed the first horse-race wagering parlor in their community and in Northern Virginia.
The referendum lost by 62 percent to 35 percent after opponents, including political leaders from Prince William County and Manassas, argued that an off-track betting facility would tarnish the area's family-friendly image, add to traffic and promote behavior harmful to families, and could drive up crime.
Colonial Downs, Virginia's only parimutuel horse track, backed the referendum in hopes of gaining a toehold in wealthy Northern Virginia. The New Kent County-based company campaigned for a similar measure in Manassas Park in 1996, which voters rejected by 74 votes.
This year, officials of the company, which operates six betting parlors elsewhere in Virginia, said a Manassas Park facility would generate more than $550,000 in annual city tax revenue, create jobs and provide a safe form of entertainment.
But the arguments didn't convince resident Darcie Russell, 39.
"I don't think [off-track betting] belongs in Manassas Park," she said as she emerged from the city's single polling place. "I don't think it's a good use of resources, space or anything."
Prince William Board of County Supervisors Chairman Sean T. Connaughton (R) said he was gratified that voters such as Russell spoke so decisively, and he hoped it would be the last time they had to do so.
"Obviously we're going to have to remain vigilant, because Northern Virginia is the largest market in the state that does not have legalized gambling," he said. "And I would anticipate that they will look for other opportunities to get it on the ballot."
Manassas Park City Council member Noreen C. Slater said she was disappointed at the vote. "If [voters] had looked at the entire issue and not had their judgments clouded by some of the far-fetched concerns of the opposition, they would have been able to better make a decision," she said.
But Manassas Park Mayor F.C. "Frank" Jones Jr., who had urged city voters to brush off the views of Connaughton and other opponents from outside the city, said he was pleased that Tuesday's vote was so clear and overwhelming.
"It's not a close call," he said. "It's the clear majority which is [the voters] saying this is the direction we want to go."
Colonial Downs was buoyed by victories on similar measures in Greene, Scott, Westmoreland and Henry counties, said Jerry Monahan, the company's senior vice president.
"Of course we were disappointed that we didn't win in Manassas Park," he said. "We'll just have to do our rethinking and take another approach at another time to that part of Northern Virginia. We're extremely pleased with what we've picked up at this time."
In Westmoreland County, an off-track betting measure passed despite an emotional push from residents of the small town of Colonial Beach, where people are concerned that a new parlor would compete with a locally owned gambling business called the Riverboat.
The Riverboat, anchored in the Potomac and therefore in Maryland, where some gambling is legal, was destroyed last year by Hurricane Isabel. However, the owner plans to rebuild, and Colonial Beach residents want to protect the venue, which has long been the center of the town's boardwalk scene and is one of the area's largest employers.
Colonial Beach voters turned down the measure aimed at bringing in a Colonial Downs betting facility by a ratio of 2 to 1, but voters in the county as a whole supported the measure. Colonial Downs president Ian Stewart said a new off-track betting operation would mean about $92,000 in annual tax revenue for Westmoreland.
Staff writer Michelle Boorstein contributed to this report.