Senate Overrides Veto To Allow Casinos In Frederiksted, Christiansted

The V.I. Legislature overturned several of Gov. John deJongh Jr.’s vetos, including one that will establish a new type of casino license and allow casinos in the historic towns of Frederiksted and Christiansted, during the 30th Legislature’s final session Friday.

The new casino license for the historic towns was proposed by Sen. Nereida "Nellie" Rivera-O’Reilly as an amendment to an unrelated bill concerning divorce, and enacted into law without debate, in September. However, the substance of the bill was discussed in a July committee hearing. (See Related Links below)

Under its terms, existing hotels in the Frederiksted or Christiansted low-tax "Enterprise Zones" will be eligible for casino licenses if they buy more downtown property with a portion of "net" profits from enterprise zone business revenue.

The owner of one or more hotels and any other businesses within St. Croix’s two enterprise districts, qualify for a casino license by spending 40 percent of net revenues after taxes, wages and all other expenses from all its Enterprise Zone businesses on either buying or renovating properties in the Enterprise Zones.

The actual gambling revenues would be taxed normally and not subject to tax breaks. The legislation contains no specific waiver of casino gross receipts taxes, and V.I. law currently specifies that all casino revenues will be taxed "notwithstanding any other law to the contrary."

Businesses would continue to be eligible for the broad Enterprise Zone tax breaks they are already eligible for, and by investing appropriately in the community, be eligible to have a casino license and the revenues that come with it.

"The manner in which this amendment was offered and enacted without going through the committee process and without the proper due diligence is troubling, especially when the charrettes conducted in both the Christiansted and Frederiksted communities within the last year definitively revealed that residents did not want casino gaming as part of their community development plans," deJongh said in his letter to the V.I. Legislature announcing his actions.

He also said no study had been done to see whether it would be beneficial. DeJongh said he hoped the casino measure would be sent to committee for a full vetting rather than simply overriding the veto.

Proposing the override, O’Reilly said the governor’s objection was based on erroneous information because "it was vetted in committee." Without the measure "We will see VLT’s propagating all over this territory," O’Reilly said, without further discussion of why this might happen.

Voting to override the governor’s veto to create the new casino license category were: Sens. O’Reilly, Craig Barshinger, Diane Capehart, Donald Cole, Kenneth Gittens, Clifford Graham, Shawn-Michael Malone, Clarence Payne, Tregenza Roach and Janette Millin Young. Voting no were Sens. Judi Buckley, Myron Jackson, Terrence "Positive" Nelson and Sammuel Sanes.

Decriminalizing Marijuana

The Legislature also voted to override deJongh’s veto of legislation decriminalizing marijuana.

The act, sponsored by Sen. Terrence "Positive" Nelson leaves possession illegal and leaves in place serious penalties for "manufacture" and sale of marijuana. But anyone arrested with less than one ounce would only commit a civil infraction punishable by a fine of $100. If the person is under age 18, parents or guardians would be notified and the offender would have to complete an "approved drug awareness program."

DeJongh vetoed the bill, saying the "measure as drafted represents an inconsistent application of law as it pertains to private employees versus" government employees, it curtails the government’s ability to "enforce and regulate workplace rules and codes of conduct, particularly in those areas involving hazardous jobs, public safety and the operation of heavy equipment," and it compromises the ability of the "judiciary to effectively enforce its orders pertaining to pre-trial release and bail."

Nelson said deJongh misinterpreted the language of the bill and that the legislation addresses the governor’s concerns.

Naming New Sports Facility

Sen. Diane Capehart moved to override the governor’s veto of legislation naming a sports facility in Frederiksted the "Horace Clarke Sports Complex" in honor of Clarke, a St. Croix native and former New York Yankee. DeJongh vetoed it, saying that honoring Clarke is a worthy cause, but there is an existing facility named for Clarke and two facilities being built, so the legislation needs to be clarified as to what facility is meant to be named.

Senators verbally clarified they meant the complex to be built, replacing Paul E. Joseph Stadium in Frederiksted, then voted to enact the legislation over the governor’s veto without any clarification in the bill itself.

Leave for the Board of Elections

Sen. Tregenza Roach moved to override a measure concerning Board of Elections members going on leave when running for office.

"The only objection the governor had was it was passed less than six months before the elections," and so violated federal law, Roach said.

"So there was no substantive objection to it," and the concern about timing no longer applies, Roach said.

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