Virginia Casino Bill Passes State Senate, Requires Comprehensive Study Before Referendum Vote

Posted on: February 5, 2019, 09:02h. 

Last updated on: February 5, 2019, 09:02h.

A Virginia casino bill has passed the state Senate, but the legislation first requires a comprehensive study on commercial gaming and the impact it would have on the Commonwealth to occur.

Virginia casino bill sports betting
Virginia is for lovers, but not yet casinos. (Image: Virginia Tourism)

Senate Bill 1126, sponsored by Sen. Louise Lucas (D-Portsmouth), received 28 “yeas” to 12 in opposition. The bill would earmark commercial casinos for Bristol, Danville, and Portsmouth, and allow the Pamunkey Indian Tribe to build Native American gaming resorts in Richmond and Norfolk.

For any of the potential five venues to receive full authorization, voters in those cities and towns would need to approve ballot referendums.

Casino developers in Bristol had hoped to have such voter approval this November, but amendments to SB 1126 will delay that step by at least a year. Two businessmen have proposed a $250 million investment at the closed Bristol Mall.

Virginia is one of just 10 states that doesn’t have either commercial or tribal casinos.

Governor Ralph Northam (R) has recently been the subject of much criticism after a 1984 yearbook photo surfaced showing a man in blackface next to another man in a KKK costume. Northam doesn’t remember if he’s either man.

PredictIt bettors believe he will still be the governor at the end of the month, with shares of that outcome trading at 53 cents.

Quick Study

During the Virginia casino bill’s consideration in the Senate Committee on General Laws and Technology, an amendment was added requiring a gambling study to be executed. However, it only required the review to be concluded and made public by November 1, 2019 – just four days before Virginians will go to the polls to elect the entire Virginia Senate and House of Delegates.

When SB 1126 reached the Senate Finance Committee, members there approved blocking any casino ballot referendum from going before voters until at least 2020. Lucas had hoped to allow the study and vote to proceed concurrently.

It just struck me as being rather unusual that we were taking an informative study that was going to have absolutely no bearing whatsoever on informing the voters or informing us as a legislative body what the potential implications of gaming would be in Virginia,” Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment (R-James City) explained.

“I’m not anti-gaming; I just think that the approach that has been offered can be improved in a more deliberate manner,” he concluded.

Language in the casino bill passed by the Senate mandates, “The Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission shall conduct a review of casino gaming laws in other states and report any findings and recommendations.” It additionally requires “that no referendum shall be held … prior to the publication of the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission’s findings.”

Sports Betting Delayed

Lucas’ legislation includes sports betting in what constitutes “casino gaming.” That means regulated sportsbooks won’t arrive in the Commonwealth for at least a year, should SB 1126 continue to be lawmakers’ preferred path forward in deciding whether to end the state’s long opposition to gambling.

In a recent release, the American Gaming Association (AGA) said half of the 50 US states will have – or be considering – sports betting this year.

Sports gambling is already operational in Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia – four states that are within close driving distance of Virginia.