March 12, 2003 – Thursday evening's St. Croix Senate hearing on St. Thomas-St. John district video lottery operations could get lively, as a group opposed to the machines is encouraging members of the community to come out en masse and demand a repeal of the enabling legislation.
Members of the Virgin Islands Action Coalition held a press conference Wednesday morning to outline their plans for the hearing. Dr. Chenzira Kahina, a coalition member, said VIAC members and supporters will gather at Buddhoe Park at 5:30 p.m. and then walk to the Legislature Building for the 6 p.m. Committee of the Whole hearing.
Several people on both sides of the issue have been invited to testify by Senate President David Jones, who will preside over the hearing and another to follow Friday evening on St. Thomas. Some members of the Action Coalition intend to speak and have taken issue with a requirement set by Jones that those wishing to do so register by 5 p.m. Tuesday.
Kahina is on the list to testify, she said, and so are several other community members. But the registration requirement does not sit well with them. "I see it as a sham, an exercise in politicking," she said. Most of those invited to testify are executives in the gaming industry or local government officials.
Curtis Robinson, the developer behind the proposed $540 million Seven Hills Beach Resort and Casino on St. Croix's Robin Bay, has said VLT's, even on St. Thomas and St. John, jeopardize investors' interest in financing his project.
Turnbull vetoed legislation making VLT's legal three times in two years. Last Dec. 23, the 24th Legislature in its final session overrode the governor's third veto, of a bill allowing the machines only in the St. Thomas-St. John district.
On Jan. 22, in the midst of public outcry over the override, Turnbull sent down legislation to repeal the new law. Sen. Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg, meanwhile, had submitted similar legislation weeks earlier.
Donastorg, too, said in a letter to Jones on Wednesday that he is concerned about the registration requirement. "While I appreciate the need to maintain a level of order, such a requirement is inconsistent with the way the Legislature usually conducts its meeting," Donastorg wrote.
He said forcing those wishing to testify to register in advance is "imposing an unfair burden on the citizens of our territory." And he asked that constituents be allowed to sign up to testify upon arrival, as is typically the procedure at committee hearings.
"Basically they've made it a public hearing where the public isn't able to be heard," Hope Gibson, another Action Coalition member, said. She expressed the view that those who did register would likely be allowed to speak only toward the end of the meeting.
Among those registered, she said, are Frank Fox, St. Croix Chamber of Commerce president; Noel Loftus, St. Croix Alive spokesman; and VIAC members Terrence Nelson and Kahina.
A large turnout by the community is important to advancing the group's cause, Kahina said. "We need everyone to be present," she said.
Last month, protesters were instrumental in persuading Gov. Charles W. Turnbull to veto legislation exorbitantly hiking his, the lieutenant governor's and legislators' salaries.
Demonstrations in opposition to the raises were mounted at the governor's inaugural ceremony on St. Thomas, outside a post-inaugural reception on St. John, at post-inaugural ceremonies on St. Croix, and prior to his delivery of the State of the Territory address on St. Thomas.
Jones, who has been a staunch supporter of VLT's, said last month that he expects a big turnout. "We're bringing everybody," he said then. Those invited to testify include members of the Casino Control Commission and the V.I. Lottery Commission; officials of Southland Gaming, the company contracted by V.I. Lottery to distribute video lottery terminals; and developers of two major resort and casino complexes planned for St. Croix.
Jones, who will chair both hearings, said he also has assigned to the Education Committee a bill sponsored by Sen. Carlton Dowe to earmark 35 percent of VLT proceeds for public education. Advocates including Jones have argued that the gambling machines could bring the government as much as $14 million a year in much-needed revenues.

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