Virginia voters will not only be voting for a U.S. senator and representatives, but also whether to legalize betting on horse racing and to allow tax exemptions for renovated or rehabilitated property.
Specifically, the betting question asks:
"Shall the Act of the General Assembly which authorizes pari-mutuel betting on horse racing and also provides for its regulation become effective in the Commonwealth?"
Your choice: Yes or No.
The opening lines of the aforementioned "Act of the General Assembly" starts out: "It is hereby declared to be the policy of the Commonwealth of Virginia, to permit legitimate horse racing with pari-mutuel wagering in the Commonwealth for the promotion, sustenance and growth of a native industry, in a manner consistent with the health, safety and welfare of the people."
Aside from sparking the anticipated fierce debate between the pros and the cons, this legislation has introduced a lexicon of terms unfamiliar to most voters.
What, for example, does "pari-mutuel" mean?It means that all the wagers on a particular race are put, figuratively, in one pot. The odds are figured by the number of people betting - in other words, the more people betting, the lower the odds of making a lot of money. The "handle" is the amount wagered, and "breakage" is "the odd cents by which the amount payable on each dollar wagered exceeds a multiple of ten cents."
The argument of those who want you to vote "no" on the referendum focuses on the duel issues of practicality and morality. They say that legalized horse race betting will neither bring in the tax revenues its supporters predict, nor boost local economies significantly. The prospect of major race tracks will attract organized crime, they say, and the integrity of Virginia government will be threatened.
Pointing to Alexandria, where the commonwealth's attorney had been indicted for allegedly accepting bribes in connection with local bingo games, they say control of corruption would require extra police investigators. Furthermore, they say the legislation if passed, is going to benefit relatively few - the horse breeders - at the pense of many - the lower-income gamblers.
Proponents say the legislation as written would provide the strictest controls of any of the 32 states where pari-mutuel betting is allowed, and that fears of organized crime and government corruption are unfounded. They point to Virginia as the home of such famous horses as Secretariat and Riva Ridge and note that these horses had to go out of state to win their trophies.
Supporters of the referendum predict a flow of $25 million into state coffers, which, under the proposed act, would be spilt between state and local treasuries. In addition, they say as many as 13,000 new jobs would be generated by the racing industry. Betting on horse races is an ancient sport, they argue, that Virginians should not have to go to West Virginia, Maryland or Kentucky to see.
Given the economics of a race track - one would cost at least $40 million to build - populous Northern Virginia and Tidewater are considered the only locations where a track might be built.
Before one could be built, however, the locality would have to have a separate referendum.
If the referendum passes, the governor will appoint a Virginia Racing Commission of five persons. None of them, nor any immediate family member or employe of a commission member, may have a financial interest in a race track.
The tax referendum asks the voters to decide if the state constitution should be amended to permit "certain tax exemptions for property which has undergone substantial renovation, rehabilitation or replacement necessistated by age and use."
In effect, this would allow local governments to tax such property at a lower rate if they choose. There has been no major campaign either for or against this proposal.