If a strong racing bill is what is needed to pass the Virginia General Assembly, then the one sponsored by Dal. Raymond R. (Andy) Guest, Jr. of Front Royal should have a dynamite chance of being approved
Guests, legislatorsreeks of safeguards against "the criminal element" which, in the Virginia mind, seems to automatically [WORD ILLEGIBLE] the legalization of pari-mutuel betting.
No one, certainly, is going to accuse Virginia of having hurriedly given its blessing to the uniting of the thoroughbred and the totalisator. The issue has been thoroughly debated in Richmond before, in 1972, 1974, and 1976. The last vote was close.
Guest predicts "another photo finish" this time around when the critical vote comes before the House of Delegates next week. "It's plus or minus 2 in the House," Guest said yesterday following the second public hearing on the bill. The Baptist opposition showed up in force. "Their argurments were predictable," Guest noted. "It was much of what we'd heard before."
Guest's bill calls for the formation of a five-man racing commission to control every aspect of the sport. The commissioners would approve the plan for the two race tracks to be built determine their location, license everyone on the grounds except the spectators, and in general, poke their collective nose into everything from the bandages applied on the back stretch to the barbecues prepared under the grandstand.
The five commissioners to be appointed by the governor and approved by the Assembly could not have any financial interests in the tracks. None could be a member of the Assembly. They could not race a horse at a state track. This fabulous five supposedly would be totally divorced from politics and any possibility of scandal.
George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe and William Henry Harrison might have served well, except they probably couldn't have qualified. Nor, for that matter, could Robert E. Lee have been a commissioner. These men were either much too horse-oriented or too political, or both.
Under Guest's bill the two tracks to be built would provide flat, trot, dirt, turf, jump or even quandra-horse racing. They could not be one-dimensional. The take-out would be 15 1/2 percent, with 5 per cent to the tracks, 5 per cent to the state and one-half of one per cent to a Virginia Breeders' Fund. 50 per cent of the state's 5 per cent would go to the general fund, the other half to counties and cities.
A complete disclosure of every person in the corporate structure would have to be provided the commission before it granted a track owner's license. This list would include "persons who have loaned money to individuals in the corporation." No individual might own more than 5 percent of the stock in a track, no family might own more than 10 percent and 75 percent of the stock would have to be owned by residents of Virginia.
Should the Assembly approve Guest's bill, newly elected Governor John Dalton has promised to sign it. But that wouldn't make racing in Virginia a sure thing. Not by a long shot.
Before a track could be built there would have to be a local referendum in the country, city or town in which the track was to be located. And, before that, there would be a statewide referendum on election day in November of this year. The ballots would carry the question: "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?"
There obviously are more obstacles facing the approval of pari-mutuel racing in Virginia than confront a steeplechase horse performing at the Montbelier Hunt. But the time such long-winded approval runs its course, the racing fans might well be too tired to enjoy anything.
Oh yes, there is one other dandy little item in Guest's bill. No "exotic" betting is to be permitted, and that includes exactas as well as triples or any other such multiple pool. The exactas have become a staple of the betting menu offered at a majority of American tracks. The triples provide an opportunity for the little bettors to win big with a small investment.
"That's also where all the races seem to be finagled with," Guest countered. "This bill would permit only the daily double in addition to win, place and show.
Let's say it one more time: Virginia should have legalized betting on horse racing. The Old Dominion is a great state for horses and horse people.Pari-mutuel waging on the hunt meeting throughout the state should have been approved years ago, as a prelude to the building of the race tracks. Such a move might have been easier to pass and might have quieted some of the Baptist opposition.
Under Guest's bill, limited licenses for portable totalisators at the hunt meetings could be approved by as early as 1980. The race track's action would not start until the spring of 1982.
So here we go again on the Richmond merry-go-round for a fourth time. Guest's bill meets all the requirements any state could require or desire. It's antiseptic. So much so that some of the fun might have been taking out of the game in advance.