A top executive with the group that has sought to promote horse racing in the U.S. Virgin Islands says he has received a response to his request to change the terms of the franchise agreement with the V.I. government, but he’s not sure what it means.
In a Christmas Eve interview with the Source, VIGL Chief Operating Officer Lance Griffith described the response as cryptic. The Dec. 22 message that came from Government House acknowledged receipt of the VIGL request.
“Government House said they received it and they would respond accordingly,” the racing promoter said.
He added the hope that a more specific response would come soon.
“We’d like to move forward, and the governor has the power to amend the franchise agreement,” Griffith added.
VIGL Operations Inc. is a casino management company. In 2016 company executives reached an agreement with the administration of then-Gov. Kenneth Mapp to develop the territory’s two horse racing tracks and boost economic development by doing so. They also manage a casino at the Caravelle Hotel in Christiansted.
According to an open letter from VIGL, appearing on Dec. 13 on the V.I. Consortium, a continuing legal challenge to one aspect of the deal was holding back delivery on the promise of creating two state-of-the-art horse racing venues. Since last spring, two District Court judges have ruled in favor of Southland Gaming Inc., which is seeking to uphold an earlier agreement with the government to exclusively operate electronic gaming machines in the district of St. Thomas-St. John.
Part of the 2016 agreement granted VIGL the right to install and operate electronic slot machines in the clubhouses at the Randall “Doc” James Racetrack on St. Croix and Clinton Phipps Racetrack on St. Thomas. Southland sued the government, saying there was no difference between electronic slot machines and electronic video lottery terminals it had an exclusive right to operate.
An April ruling by former District Court Judge Curtis Gomez sided with Southland on the matter. His successor, District Court Judge Robert Molloy, upheld that decision in a July ruling. But in July Molloy also rejected a part of the prior ruling that said the government violated the Contract Clause of the U.S. Constitution when it made the racetrack deal with VIGL.
Griffith said it became clear to VIGL that it would be better for them to withdraw its status as a party to the lawsuit and await the outcome.
“Immediately after the initial ruling in and throughout the entire mediation process VIGL requested that the government resume the oversight and operation of the racetracks. Additionally, we requested that the franchise agreement be modified and that VIGL and the government develop a modified agreement that would allow the development of the Randall ‘Doc’ James Racetrack on St. Croix to move forward since all the other hurdles had been removed,” Griffith said in the Dec. 13 open letter.
And that, he said in Thursday’s interview, was the gist of the request also conveyed to Government House. A phone inquiry to clarify the position of Government House was posed to Communications Director Richard Motta Jr. As of Sunday evening there had been no reply.
The government granted VIGL a temporary agreement allowing it to continue its casino operations at the Caravelle. But by Christmas Eve, with a few days left until the permit expires on Dec. 31, Griffith said the company wants a firmer commitment.
“We’re not interested in renewing a temporary agreement, and we believe the mediation [ordered by the court] has failed,” he said.