Virginia Legalizes Casinos and Online Gaming
Lawmakers in Virginia have been considering legalized gambling within its borders for years. Beyond the lottery and a horse racing track, there is little gambling for residents or to attract visitors. Occasionally, a bill to authorize land-based casinos would be proposed, but there was rarely enough support to even get a bill through a positive committee vote, much less head to the floor of the legislature for a vote.
That all changed in the past year.
Several towns in Virginia actually gathered momentum in late 2018 with a push for casinos, especially in Bristol. With neighboring states growing and expanding their already thriving gambling establishments, some in Virginia recognized the need to compete.
Democratic State Senator L. Louise Lucas put forth a gambling expansion bill at the end of 2018 that was officially considered in early 2019, and it took little more than two months to garner enough support for passage in both houses of the legislature and hit the governor’s desk for final approval. And late on Friday, March 22, Governor Ralph Northam signed it into law.
Semi-Smooth Trajectory of SB.1126
Virginia Senator Lucas prefiled a broad measure on December 28, 2018, and SB.1126 was immediately referred to the Committee on General Laws and Technology. The bill was taken up by that committee on January 21, and it passed through with a 9-3 vote. It then went to the Finance Committee, which passed it nine days later by an 11-5 vote.
SB.1126 went before the Senate the following day, on January 31, for a full reading, and amendments were discussed. On February 4, though, on the third reading, the Senate passed the bill by a 28-12 vote.
It went to the House Rules Committee and passed 12-5 and went up for several readings in the House. It passed by a vote of 80-17 on February 13, but a substitute was proposed. The bill went back and forth between the House and Senate that day without a resolution, but ten days later, they reached a compromise that passed both houses.
Did the Commonwealth of Virginia just quietly authorize online casino and sports betting? I think so! Well, at least once Gov. Northam signs the bill. https://t.co/mkxInRnDEx
— michelleminton (@michelleminton) March 21, 2019
Governor Northam received the bill for consideration on March 11, and he had until March 26 to take action. He sat on the legislation for weeks, and he finally decided to sign it on March 22.
The summary of the bill includes some of the most important details of the new law.
“Authorizes casino gaming in the Commonwealth to be regulated by the Virginia Lottery Board. Casino gaming shall be limited to certain cities that meet the criteria that is outlined in the bill, and a referendum must be passed in the city on the question of allowing casino gaming in the city.
“The bill requires the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission to conduct a review of casino gaming laws in other states and report its findings to the Chairmen of the Senate Committee on General Laws and Technology and the House Committee on General Laws on or before December 1, 2019.”
Aside from the authorization of the Virginia Lottery Board to oversee all gaming changes and the requirement that a city approve a new casino by referendum before moving forward, there are other details in the full text of the bill. For example, city referendums must be held before January 1, 2021. And the Virginia Lottery Board may start to implement provisions of the new law on January 1, 2020 but must complete the work of devising regulations by July 1, 2020.
It should also be noted that select cities have been designated for referenda that could lead to casinos: Bristol, Danville, Portsmouth, Richmond, and Norfolk, the last two of which may be reserved for tribal casinos for the Pamunkey Indian Tribe.
Importantly for internet gaming fans and advocates, the definition of casino gaming in the bill includes wording about sports betting and online gaming, which is important for the development of regulations. Casino gaming, per the bill includes “baccarat, blackjack, twenty-one, poker, craps, dice, slot machines, sports betting, roulette wheels, Klondike tables, punchboards, faro layouts, keno layouts, numbers tickets, push cards, jar tickets, pull tabs, online gaming, and any other activity that is authorized by the Board as a wagering game of device.”
This mention of online gaming and sports betting may be minor, but it seems to give the Virginia Lottery Board the authority to draft regulations and permit companies to obtain licenses for such activities.
At a Snail’s Pace
There is a long way to go before a casino can be approved, meaning there are likely several years before a casino will be built and opened for business. This also means that online gaming and sports betting is likely years away as well.
The study by the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission has not yet begun and has a due date of December 1, 2019. The Virginia Lottery Board is unlikely to begin looking at a regulatory process until that study has been completed and examined, probably well into 2020. And if the guidelines in the bill are honored, regulations won’t even be completed and made public until the spring months of 2020.
Casino gambling and the potential for sports betting and online poker and casino games are positives for the state of Virginia and the growth of gambling in America. It just may take some time to see it the plans come to fruition.