HANOVER COUNTY, Va. — Regal, chestnut, and with the knowing eyes of a horse who has been there done that, Toccoa watches over Eagle Point Farm in Hanover County.
“A couple of people have called her the queen of Colonial,” Toccoa’s owner, and the owner of the farm, Karen Godsey said.
Godsey pointed to pictures of Toccoa on her workroom wall that show her precious horse, which was the first horse she trained who won a race at Colonial Downs in New Kent County.
But, Toccoa’s son Baxter never made it there.
The racetrack shut down three years ago.
“Unfortunately, Colonial Downs was closed when he started racing so I had to send him to somebody else to train for us,” Godsey said.
And, it wasn’t just Baxter that Godsey sent away.
“The year that it closed, I remember putting horses on trailers to send out of state, I mean, one by one they just left out of here,” Godsey said.
Godsey’s farm used to be a race horse school, and she also raced her own horses at Colonial Downs.
But, when it closed, she and others in the Virginia horse racing industry lost a lot of income.
“We had to figure out a way to make it financially feasible for somebody to open Colonial Downs,” the President of the Virginia Equine Alliance, Debbie Easter, said.
Easter said the group commissioned a study and found the answer: historic horse racing.
Historic horse racing involves slot-like gaming machines that allow folks to bet on races already run.
“People can handicap and get a little bit of information that allows them to make a choice on what numbers they’re picking,” Easter said.
The problem: Virginia, with a traditionally anti-gambling legislature, doesn’t allow it.
So, Republican Delegate Chris Peace, who represents New Kent County, co-sponsored legislation to allow historic horse racing at Colonial Downs.
“I’m a conservative that believes in personal responsibility, free will,” Peace said. “I don’t think we should be a nanny state and tell people what they can and cannot do with their dollars.”
Both the House and Senate passed the bill, and it now awaits the Governor’s signature, and folks like Godsey hope he signs it ASAP.
“I think there is a stigma around gaming, but like I said, this is family business, these are family farms and it supports a bunch of industries,” Godsey added.
Advocates of the legislation also want to have these gaming machines at off track betting sites.
Nine localities already allow off track betting sites, but others would need to hold a referendum and have voters decided if they want to open one in their community.