University of Vermont AAHS

Virginia Attorney General

2000 WL 301017
February 11, 2000

Summary of Opinion

The Attorney General was asked whether a licensed race track may operate a satellite facility for simulcasting wagering before the race track itself is constructed.  The Attorney General responded that the Virginia Racing Commission may approve of such action if it wishes.

Text of Opinion


No requirement that licensed racetrack be in existence and operating before licensee may open satellite facility to transmit simulcast horse racing. Virginia Racing Commission has sole authority to promulgate regulations and conditions for operation of racetrack and satellite facility in Commonwealth; is appropriate state agency to determine whether construction of racetrack must be completed before satellite facility may be opened.

The Honorable Robert G. Marshall
Member, House of Delegates

You ask whether Colonial Downs Holdings, Inc., or the Virginia Turf Club, Inc., may open an "off-track betting parlor" for wagering on simulcast horse racing transmitted from locations outside the Commonwealth before construction is completed of a racetrack to conduct live racing. You ask whether such would constitute a satellite betting facility that would require voter approval in a separate referendum. I can find no statutory definition of the term "off-track betting parlor." For the purposes of this opinion, therefore, I shall refer to the term "satellite facility" as that term is defined in 59.1-365 of the Code of Virginia. You advise that, in 1994, the voters in Prince William County approved a referendum to permit pari-mutuel wagering in the county at a licensed racetrack in accordance with Chapter 29 of Title 59.1, 59.1-364 through 59.1-405 ("Chapter 29").

The statutory provisions governing horse racing and pari-mutuel wagering in the Commonwealth are contained in Chapter 29. Section 59.1-365 defines terms that are used in Chapter 29. The term "simulcast horse racing" is defined as

the simultaneous transmission of the audio or video portion, or both, of horse races from a licensed horse racetrack or satellite facility to another licensed horse racetrack or satellite facility, regardless of state of licensure, whether such races originate within the Commonwealth or any other jurisdiction, by satellite communication devices, television cables, telephone lines, or any other means for the purposes of conducting pari- mutuel wagering.

The definition of "simulcast horse racing" clearly permits the receipt by a "licensed horse racetrack or satellite facility" of the audio and/or video transmission of horse races.

The power to control and regulate horse racing with pari-mutuel wagering in Virginia is vested in the Virginia Racing Commission. The Commission has "all powers and duties necessary to carry out the provisions of [Chapter 29] and to exercise the control of horse racing as set forth in 59.1-364." "If the language of a statute is plain and unambiguous, and its meaning perfectly clear and definite, effect must be given to it." It is unnecessary to resort to any rules of statutory construction when the language of a statute is unambiguous. In those situations, the statute's plain meaning and intent govern.

Section 59.1-369(4) provides the only limitation placed on the Commission relating to licensure:

The Commission shall promulgate regulations and conditions under which simulcast horse racing shall be conducted at a licensed horse racetrack or satellite facility in the Commonwealth and all such other regulations it deems necessary and appropriate to effect the purposes of [Chapter 29]. Such regulations shall include provisions that all simulcast horse racing must comply with the Interstate Horse Racing Act of 1978 (15 U.S.C. 3001 et seq.) and shall require the holder of an unlimited license to schedule not less than 150 live racing days in the Commonwealth each calendar year; however, the Commission shall have the authority to alter the required number of live racing days during the first five years of operation based on what the Commission deems to be in the best interest of the Virginia horse industry. Such regulations shall authorize up to six satellite facilities and restrict majority ownership of satellite facilities to an entity licensed by the Commission which owns a horse racetrack in the Commonwealth. Nothing in this subdivision shall be deemed to preclude private local ownership or participation in any satellite facility. Wagering on simulcast horse racing shall take place only at a licensed horse racetrack or satellite facility.

"[T]he plain, obvious, and rational meaning of a statute is always to be preferred to any curious, narrow, or strained construction." Statutes should not be construed to frustrate their purpose. In addition, the use of the word "shall" in a statute generally implies that its terms are intended to be mandatory, rather than permissive or directive. Finally, when a statute creates a specific grant of authority, the authority exists only to the extent specifically granted in the statute.

The plain language of 59.1-369(4) requires the Commission to adopt regulations authorizing a licensee to own or operate "up to six satellite facilities." The plain language does not require that a racetrack be in existence and operating in order for a satellite facility to offer simulcast horse racing. Consequently, I am required to conclude that should the Virginia Racing Commission issue a license to operate a racetrack and a satellite facility, the clear definition of the term "simulcast horse racing" would permit the licensee to operate a daily satellite facility.

A fundamental principle of statutory construction is that the clear and unambiguous words of a statute must be accorded their plain meaning. "In determining legislative intent from the statutory language, words should be given their ordinary meaning." Indeed, words in a statute are to be given their common meaning unless a contrary legislative intent is manifest. The Commission, therefore, has clearly been given the sole authority to promulgate regulations and conditions for the operation of a racetrack and a satellite facility in the Commonwealth.

For many years, in rendering official opinions pursuant to 2.1-118, the Attorney General has declined to render such opinions when the request (1) does not involve a question of law, (2) requires the interpretation of a matter reserved to another entity, (3) involves a matter currently in litigation, or (4) involves a matter of purely local concern or procedure. The Commission is the agency in the Commonwealth authorized to determine whether construction of a racetrack must be completed before a satellite facility may be operated.

Because 59.1-365 provides no definition of the term "off-track betting parlor," I have referred to such facility in this opinion according to the definition provided for "satellite facility." Under the definition of the term "simulcast horse racing," I note that the audio and/or visual transmission of horse races may be received at either "another licensed horse racetrack or satellite facility." I also note that the General Assembly does not require that a licensed horse racetrack be operating before a satellite facility may be opened.

Mark L. Earley
Attorney General

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