Casino Lobbyists Readying in Virginia for Busy Legislative Year Ahead

Posted on: October 15, 2018, 03:00h. 

Last updated on: October 15, 2018, 01:03h.

Numerous casino lobbyists have registered with the Virginia General Assembly recently, and that hints of a busy lawmaking session ahead for the gaming industry.

casino lobbyists Virginia MGM Caesars
MGM Resorts Executive VP Alan Feldman (far right) isn’t tipping his hand as to why he’s assemblying a team of casino lobbyists in Virginia. He said only this week that he “looks forward to working with policy makers as the commonwealth considers gaming-related matters.” (Image: Richard Velotta/Las Vegas Review-Journal)

A series of critical issues are facing the Commonwealth as it relates to gaming.

Virginia is one of just 10 states that doesn’t have commercial or tribal casinos. But that could soon change, as the Pamunkey Indian Tribe wants to build a $700 million casino resort near Williamsburg. In Bristol, a small town in the southwestern part of the state, a group of developers are trying to urge state politicians to pass legislation to allow a gaming venue to open in a vacant mall.

The federal government’s recent liberalization of sports betting via a May Supreme Court decision is another pressing issue facing state lawmakers.

Then there’s Colonial Downs, the state’s lone horse racetrack. The track was recently saved by a group of Chicago investors who agreed to keep the facility operational if it was permitted to incorporate historical horse racing terminals.

Virginia lawmakers have long been opposed to gaming expansion, but the decision to allow the historical racing terminals, which have been compared to traditional slot machines, has been seen as an indicator change is in the air.

Power Players

The Virginia Mercury reports that MGM Resorts and Caesars Entertainment are two companies that are sending lobbyists to the state capital of Richmond. Other companies include slot machine manufacturers and sports betting interest groups.

MGM’s interest in any gaming legislation in Virginia being discussed is rather obvious. Its $1.4 billion MGM National Harbor opened just outside DC across the Potomac River in Maryland in December of 2016. Located east of Arlington and Alexandria, the MGM integrated casino resort complex draws heavily from the wealthy northern Virginia region.

MGM Resorts is known to use its political prowess in maintaining gaming strongholds around its casinos. The company recently heavily lobbied in Connecticut and successfully convinced state lawmakers there to reconsider allowing its two tribes to build a satellite casino near the Connecticut-Massachusetts border and its recently opened $960 million MGM Springfield.

Caesars operates gaming at Harrah’s Cherokee and Harrah’s Cherokee Valley in North Carolina. But the floated Bristol casino in Virginia would still be roughly 100 miles north. Caesars, like MGM, isn’t saying specifically its reason for lobbying up in Virginia, but the company additionally owns the Horseshoe Baltimore, which is less than 40 miles north of the state.

Caesars might also be hoping the Pamunkey Indians somehow convince state lawmakers to enter into a gaming compact to allow it to operate Class III gaming, the classification of the all-important slot machines and table games. Caesars’ recent business focus has been seeking partnerships, especially non-gaming ones, that don’t require a large upfront investment on the casino company’s part.

Sports Betting Odds

Colonial Downs is expected to lobby state lawmakers for permission to operate a sportsbook at its horse racetrack and four off-track betting venues.

I can almost guarantee you there will be legislation for sports betting in Virginia,” lobbyist Brian Hess explained. West Virginia has already legalized sports betting, and legislation has been introduced in Maryland, Kentucky, and DC.

Virginia lawmakers have been slow to embrace sports betting, but Hess believes that will change when the General Assembly reconvenes. The state Senate and House are back in session in early January.