Historical Horse Racing Goes Live at Virginia’s Colonial Downs, Slot-Like Machines Attract Large Crowd

Posted on: April 24, 2019, 12:18h. 

Last updated on: April 24, 2019, 12:18h.

Historical horse racing (HHR) went live Tuesday at the Colonial Downs racetrack in New Kent, Virginia, and the slot-like gaming devices spurred hundreds of patrons to the opening day festivities.

historical horse racing Colonial Downs gaming
Don’t call them slot machines. These Colonial Downs gamblers are simply betting on the ponies through historical horse racing terminals. (Image: WTVR)

An estimated 500 people arrived at the horse racetrack centrally located between Richmond and Williamsburg that’s been shuttered since 2014. The 600 HHR terminals situated on the Colonial Downs gaming floor are expected to help revitalize live racing at the facility.

It’s been five years of tears falling,” Virginia Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment (R-James City) said yesterday. The lawmaker added that the track’s reopening and HHR terminals will “bring in $26 million to the Commonwealth of Virginia in state taxes, but more importantly, it will bring in more than $15 million to New Kent County.”

Along with Colonial Downs, Revolutionary Racing – the new owner of the track – is opening HHR gaming parlors in Richmond, Hampton, Chesapeake, and Vinton by the end of the year. Each parimutuel betting facility will use the company’s Rosie’s Gaming Emporium brand. In total, the four off-track sites will offer as many as 2,400 HHR machines.

Virginia Historical Racing History

Colonial Downs hosted live racing from 1997 through 2014. The track closed following a dispute between former track owner Jacobs Entertainment and the horsemen.

After the track was denied racing dates for 2016 by the Virginia Racing Commission – commissioners saying at the time that the track owners had “displayed callous disregard for the industry” by surrendering its unlimited racing license – Jacobs said all options were exhausted and looked for a buyer.

That buyer came by way of Chicago-based Revolutionary Racing. But the purchase came on the condition that the company be afforded the right to house historical racing machines. After decades of opposition to nearly any form of gambling, the Virginia General Assembly and Gov. Ralph Northam (D) signed a bill to permit the gaming activity last year.

HHR Gameplay

Historical racing machines allow bettors to make wagers on horse races that have already been run.

The names of the horses, jockeys, trainers, and track location are concealed. Players are shown graphs displaying winning percentage for each post position, jockey, and trainer – numbers that are based on the parimutuel handicapping from that day.

HHR bettors are afforded various wagering options, and select a finishing order. An animated display of the race is then shown.

Where the devices become controversial is from the auto spin option. Rosie’s own website explains, “All the hard work is done for you. The gaming system selects the horses with the best odds at the time of the race. Use AutoCap so that all you have to do is focus on spinning, and winning.”

Along with viewing the animated horserace, HHR players have the option of watching “graphic representations of those outcomes as you would on a traditional casino game.” The “graphic representations” are spinning reels that closely resemble traditional slot machines.

It’s why not everyone is in favor of HHR.

“The only winner of expanded gambling in Virginia is the gambling industry,” Family Foundation President Victoria Cobb opined. “The promised panacea of increased revenue to the state never seems to materialize, and the cost to the community of broken homes and families can be devastating.”