HOA STATEMENT – HORSE RACING IN THE VIRGIN ISLANDS
MINISTER FOR EDUCATION & CULTURE – MYRON V. WALWYN
Third Sitting of the First Session of the Third House of Assembly
September 03, 2015
Madame Speaker, thank you for the opportunity to say a few words on the matter of Horse Racing in the Territory.
The sport of horse racing has been a part of the fabric of this community for many years. We have seen it grow from horses racing on unprepared grounds to what we have today at the Ellis Thomas Downs. There is no doubt that it has become a part of our culture.
Over the years discussions have been had on the development of the sport and its regulation but there have not been any policy development or strategy development to guide the development of the sport. The governance of horse racing is ill defined as are the roles and responsibilities of Government and key players in the sport. Government has been paying for the upkeep of the track and the horse owners have been investing in acquiring horses and maintaining them and doing what they think necessary to prepare them for participation in races. The amenities and concession facilities remain undeveloped. Madame Speaker, the time has come to think of horse racing in a different light it is not just a sport. It is an industry that has remained disorganized and underdeveloped. Is it not time for there to be a business case and a business development plan for horse racing?
Presently Madame Speaker, the Downs needs upgrading and machinery for maximum operations. It will take a significant injection of cash to bring about needed improvements. The Horse-Owners Association has been doing a significant amount with assistance from the Government but this is not being done with any structured and coordinated programme in place and is not sustainable. It is an industry that is being operated as a past time when it has great social and economic potential. This potential cannot be realized without deliberate action to capitalize on it. The scope of possibilities is wide but there needs to be proper governance and management mechanisms in place and this includes appropriate investment and regulation to ensure accountability and to safe guard the interest of all involved.
Madame Speaker, discussing a way forward for the development of horse racing has always been a ‘ticklish’ matter which draws both negative and positive comments across various groups in the Territory. In particular, the issue of gambling for example is one that many would rather not discuss. However, Madame Speaker, it is important for us to look closely at the situation and weigh the pros and cons. While many would shun the discussion, what is very clear Madame Speaker is that we cannot continue on the present path as it is not a healthy and desirable situation. We must therefore Madame Speaker begin a dialogue which will bring us to possible recommendations on the way forward.
Madame Speaker, I think we must move to a position where legislation is put in place to establish a Horse Racing Commission with responsibility to regulate and control the entire horse racing industry. This Commission Madame Speaker will be responsible for such things as making all the rules that are necessary for the proper functioning of horse racing and the operations of the horse courses; undertake to register race horses and owners; issue licences
and permits; establish training schemes for jockeys, stable lads and other personnel in the industry and hear disputes arising out of the rules of racing and so on.
We must Madame Speaker, also look at the area of pari-mutuel betting. Madame Speaker I pause to briefly say what Pari-mutuel betting is for those who are unaware. Pari-mutuel betting is the most common form of controlled horse-racing betting. The term literally means “to wager amongst ourselves” and so unlike other forms of betting, the odds are not fixed. What this does is to bring order to what is presently happening at the track. To regulate what is happening will only augur well for the entire Territory. It will bring in funds which will go to the upkeep of the facility and allow us to improve the track and its surroundings. To have legislation, a Commission and pari-mutuel betting in place provides the opportunity for
the country to get more involved in Sports Tourism and this opens up a large number of possibilities such as providing opportunities for employment.
Madame Speaker, it makes no sense to keep side-stepping what presently takes place with horse racing in the Territory. It is a hard and frank discussion we must have. The races happen every year, several times for the year. Pari-Mutuel Betting Madame Speaker takes place in the USVI,( St. Thomas and St. Croix) and in the other islands such as Barbados, Trinidad and Jamaica.
We have arrangements with our neighbours in the USVI and many look forward to going to the races here and to travel to the USVI for those races there. We say proudly that the sport is a part of our “Culture”. Horse racing is not going to disappear. This said, Madame Speaker, it seems to me that it makes sense to have the regulatory processes in place to safe guard all involved.
I wish at this point Madame Speaker to say thank you to all the persons over the years who have worked towards the development of the sport but in particular I want to mention the Hon Eileen Parsons who did a tremendous amount of ground work when she was in office and was responsible for getting the Government of the Day to get the Ellis Thomas Downs up and running. Significant work was also done in drafting legislation and looking at Pari-mutuel betting. Madame Speaker we are building on this foundation.
Madame Speaker I am taking this opportunity to reopen the discussion and invite the community to be a part of it. I have already instructed my Ministry to begin the research and to have a draft proposal and policy ready to allow us to start the dialogue. We have already started meeting with the Horse-Owners Association to get the conversation going and have received much input from them. We invite all interested persons to send in their comments or request for a meeting to the Ministry and this can be done by contacting Mrs. Brenda Lettsome-Tye, Assistant Secretary in the ministry.
Madame Speaker, I look forward to hearing from the Community and making firm decisions on the way forward, together.
Thank you Madame Speaker.