Virginia Legislators File 20-Plus Gambling Bills
Virginia lawmakers have introduced more than 20 gambling bills in the current session. Legislation would OK casino gambling in five cities, legalize sports betting and allow online lottery sales. Senate President Pro Tem Louise Lucas (l.), a proponent of casinos, said, “Just give us an opportunity to determine our own destiny.”
More than 20 gambling bills have been introduced in the Virginia General Assembly’s current 60-day session. Several have passed out of subcommittees, but none have yet made it to the House or Senate floor. Proposals include legalizing casino gambling, online lottery ticket sales and sports betting, and regulating so-called games of skill.
Virginia is one of a handful of states that prohibit any type of casino gaming. But the Senate General Laws and Technology Subcommittee on Gaming approved the legislation, which was introduced in November by Senate President Pro Tempore Louise Lucas.
The statute, which was referred back to the full Committee on General Laws and Technology, would legalize casinos in Bristol, Danville, Richmond, Norfolk and Portsmouth, with local referendums required for approval. A similar version of the legislation is expected to advance in the House.
Supporters claim casino resorts in economically depressed areas would create new jobs and boost tax revenue. Chief sponsor of the measure, state Senator Louise Lucas, said, “Just give us an opportunity to determine our own destiny.”
Developers, local governments, casino operators and lawmakers have been negotiating behind the scenes regarding how many casinos the state should allow and who will operate them. Key players include Jim McGlothlin, a Bristol coal industrialist who wants to build a Hard Rock casino and resort in Bristol, and the Pamunkey Indian Tribe, which has proposed casinos in Richmond and Norfolk. The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians also has proposed a Bristol casino and Chicago-based Rush Street Gaming is targeting Portsmouth. Each project must have a minimum investment of $200 million.
The legislation is a continuation of SB 1126, which was passed and signed by Governor Ralph Northam. However, the bill only called for the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission to review regulations in states with commercial casinos.
The current measure would task the Virginia Lottery with regulating the casinos. Gross gaming revenue would be taxed at 27 percent, with 89 percent of that revenue directed to the state’s general fund, 10 percent to the host city and 1 percent to problem gambling services. The JLARC study estimated that the 27% rate on the five proposed casinos would generate more than $262 million in state revenue by 202
The Senate subcommittee also recently rejected a measure that would have permitted Colonial Downs horseracing track to expand its Rosie’s Gaming Emporium satellite location, featuring 1,800 historical horseracing machines, to the northern part of the state. Colonial Downs operates Rosie’s venues in Richmond, Hampton, Vinton and New Kent.
Two years ago, the Virginia legislature approved the games to help boost financially troubled live horseracing. Myles Louria, a lobbyist for Colonial Downs, said the Senate panel’s decision rejecting expanding historic horseracing machines is “inconsistent” with lawmakers’ decision two years ago, and threatens the future of the horseracing industry.
Mobile-only sports betting legislation looks promising this year, said state Senator Jeremy McPike. “I think the votes are there for online sports betting to take place,” he said. His bill, SB 384, was reported out of the General Laws and Technology Committee and referred to the Finance and Appropriations Committee.
McPike said sports betting revenue will be taxed at 15 percent to 20 percent; a study by the Joint Legislative Audit & Review Commission (JLARC) indicates mobile sports betting revenue could generate up to $55 million in annual gaming tax revenue for the state. The bill allows for 10 mobile sports betting licenses, with a minimum of six issued by the Virginia Lottery Board, which would determine how many licenses would be economically viable. Operators would pay a $250,000 application fee for a state sports betting license, good for three years.
The bill also calls for official league data for in-play betting, modeled after Michigan‘s sports wagering law. League data must be made available on “commercially reasonable” terms.
The Senate subcommittee also voted to pass HB 881, which would classify electronic games of skill as illegal gambling, except for games that offer non-cash prizes or coupons for non-cash prizes. The machines have proliferated throughout the state in recent years.
The measure’s sponsor, State Rep. David Bulova, said deliberations have been intense regarding regulating casinos and sports betting, but the electronic games have slipped in under the radar. “I think it sends the wrong message for somebody to come in, use a loophole in the law and then to go ahead and ask for forgiveness and say, ‘Hey, since we’re here, we want to be taxed and regulated,’” he said.
Another bill would allow online lottery ticket sales. The JLARC study noted Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan, New Hampshire and Pennsylvania allow internet ticket sales and said “in the first year, the Virginia Lottery would have iLottery sales of around $78 million, which would translate into additional lottery proceeds of around $12 million.”