Dec.14, 2005–A bill granting TRAXCO a use variance to operate closed loop gaming devices at the Randall "Doc" James Racetrack on St. Croix will not be dealt with until next year.
At a Rules and Judiciary Committee meeting Tuesday, senators voted to hold the bill in committee until the next meeting date after Legislature legal counsel Yvonne Tharpes said the Casino Control Commission would not have the authority to regulate the gaming devices if allowed on the track.
Sen. Norman Jn Baptiste said he did not believe this was so, since a section in the Casino and Resort Control Act said the Casino Control Commission has authority to regulate "alternative forms of gambling."
Tharpes said the act does not specifically speak to the operation of "racinos" in the territory, and also does not stipulate that casinos could be established outside hotels that have met certain requirements outlined in the act.
Tharpes added that amendments to the bill would have to be made to allow the Casino Control Commission to regulate the gaming devices, or special legislation would have to be written to leave the Commission out of the process. "The current bill is an incomplete treatment of this matter," she said.
Tharpes added senators also have a false impression of how the gaming devices work and statements made by TRAXCO representatives that the devices would be controlled by a central server located at the Divi Carina Bay Resort and Casino are not accurate.
"If this explanation of how these things work is accepted, then there could be some consequences," Tharpes said. "This could mean that a person could play these games on their own computer, anywhere, like certain types of Internet games. Then, the legislature does not have the authority to impose a tax on the profits coming out from the devices at the racetrack, because the games are not being played there."
Sen. Ronald Russell, who introduced the bill, also introduced an amendment mandating that 20 percent of all revenues garnered from the operation of gaming devices at the track will be distributed by the Finance Department to the Casino Control Commission and the Horse Racing Improvement Fund. Money in the fund will be used by the St. Croix Horse Racing Commission for operations, purses and for establishing a breeder's fund.
Russell said Divi Carina Bayowned by Treasure Bay V.I. Corp, of which TRAXCO is a subsidiaryis making "large profits off of the residents of St. Croix." The tax, he added, would give the people back some of their money.
"I am disappointed that we seem to have to cave into the desires of Divi to save horseracing on St. Croix," Russell said. "They're holding us hostage with horseracing just because they have the franchise."
Thanksgiving horse races were not held at the Randall "Doc" James Racetrack this year, since TRAXCO closed up its operations at the track after the variance was not approved in a Senate session held last month.
Sen. Terrence "Positive" Nelson said he would not let TRAXCO's closing "force" him into making an "on the spot decision." Nelson motioned to have the bill held in committee until the next meeting so that amendments and other adjustments could be made.
Sens. Shawn Michael Malone, Usie R. Richards, and Celestino A. White Sr voted against the motion, while Sens. Lorraine L. Berry, Pedro "Pete" Encarnacion, Nelson, and Russell voted in favor of the motion.
After a three-hour discussion, a bill prohibiting sexual harassment in the workplace was also held in the Rules and Judiciary Committee Tuesday. The bill was held because an amendment offered by Sen. Craig W. Barshinger to clarify certain provisions in the bill did not address all issues brought forth by other senators during the meeting.
The original bill, for example, mandates that damages incurred by a victim of sexual harassment as a result of an act of sexual harassment, be doubled and paid for by the individual responsible for the act of sexual harassment. Russell said this provision was unclear because neither the bill, nor the amendment, set specific standards for "economic or non-economic" damages. "Something like emotional damagehow do we put a price on that," he asked.
Senators also said sections in the bill providing sanctions to sexual harassers should also be streamlined.
An amendment to the bill offered by Berry was adopted. The amendment mandates the government's personnel director adopt the policy against sexual harassment for the executive branch. All other employers are also mandated to adopt the policy.
Another amendment drafted by Barshinger was not introduced Tuesday. This amendment would have appropriated money for the Labor Department and the V.I. Civil Rights Commissionorganizations responsible for dealing with sexual harassment casesto conduct training and sexual harassment seminars.
The amendment would also have clarified a section in the bill which appropriates $50,000 from the General Fund for sexual harassment training. The bill did not say whether Labor and the Civil Rights Commission would receive $50,000 each, or would have to share the money.
Erva Denham, chair of the V.I. Civil Rights Commission, said once finished, the bill would be beneficial to the local community because it provides a clear definition of what sexual harassment is. At Tuesday's meeting, Denham said both employers and employees are "often backed into situations" because they don't know the "boundaries associated with sexual harassment."
Glen Smith, head of the Labor Department's Division of Labor Relations, also testified on the bill. When asked, Smith could not say how many sexual harassment cases were filed in the territory within the last year. However, he did tell senators the bill was necessary, and would help expedite the process by which cases are filed.
Present at Tuesday's meeting were Sens. Berry, Barshinger, Liston Davis, Encarnacion, Malone, Nelson, Richards, Russell, and White.
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