The buzz surrounding Colonial Downs's proposal to bring off-track betting to Manassas Park is growing.
Officials from the New Kent County-based company, which operates Virginia's only parimutuel horse-racing track, made their case before the Manassas Park City Council this week for having a sports-bar-style betting parlor in the city. The site proposed for the facility is Manassas Park Shopping Center, along Route 28.
Meanwhile, opponents are rallying support for a petition that urges the city's elected officials to denounce Colonial Downs's plans. Denny Daughtery, an activist helping lead the opposition, said that about 150 signatures have been collected so far.
Although Prince William County and Manassas officials have said they're concerned about the possible effect of an off-track betting parlor on their residents, Manassas Park officials are staying neutral on the issue.
Several top Manassas Park officials, including the mayor, signed a petition to put the item on the Nov. 2 ballot, and one City Council member circulated the petition herself, according to Prince William County Circuit Court records.
Council member Noreen C. Slater petitioned Prince William County Circuit Court to allow Manassas Park to hold the referendum in November. She also gathered dozens of signatures, including those of Mayor F.C. "Frank" Jones, Vice Mayor Kevin P. Brendel, council members Cynthia R. Gardner and Vonna L. "Vonnie" Privett and School Superintendent Thomas DeBolt, among others.
A telephone call to Slater seeking comment was not returned Tuesday. Brendel said Slater was traveling out of state on vacation. He said he signed the petition simply as an exercise in democracy.
"Remember that signing a petition is not an endorsement," Brendel said. "It merely places something on the ballot to let the citizens make a decision on this particular issue."
Brendel said he didn't see any contradiction in Slater's circulating the petitions.
"All Ms. Slater did was afford the opportunity to collect the signatures to get [the item] on the ballot to decide," he said. "She was making sure the citizens have a positive way to express their opinion on the issue."
Signing the petition is very different from endorsing or opposing off-track betting in the city, Jones said.
"It simply says I agree that it can be placed on the ballot for the voters to decide," he said. "The one thing you'll find out about me is that if I take a strong position on an issue, it's easily discernible and well known. . . . I'm not one who is usually a line-treader."
Daughtery, who lives in Gainesville, said he finds it very unfortunate that local officials signed the petition in light of how residents voted in 1996. That year Manassas Park voters rejected a similar proposal by 74 votes. Northern Virginia voters in six jurisdictions have rejected similar off-track betting proposals since 1992.
"I wish officials were treating the expression of the voters last time more seriously," Daugherty said. "We've been on streets in which every person signed the petition in opposition. The opposition is very, very strong."
Daugherty said a group he helped found, called Family Alliance, is helping collect signatures against the latest proposal in Manassas Park. The group's mission is to promote policies that strengthen families, he said.
The Prince William Board of County Supervisors came out against Colonial Downs's proposal Tuesday, unanimously supporting a resolution that urges Manassas Park voters to reject the item. Because of the city's location, Prince William's roads would be severely effected by traffic to and from the betting parlor, said board Chairman Sean T. Connaughton (R).
"This is [like] the classic country song, 'They get the gold mine, we get the shaft,' " he said. "We get all the transportation issues."
Supervisors are also concerned about how county families and crime levels would be affected, Connaughton said.
Colonial Downs officials say they have an established, successful record with their five betting parlors across the state. The company has a sixth on the way and has been able to get five similar proposals on ballots across Virginia in the fall.
Colonial Downs projects that $90 million a year would be wagered at the Manassas Park parlor, providing $558,000 in tax revenue for the city annually.