- Virginia has traditionally been conservative about gambling, allowing only lotteries and betting on horse races
- After a push for gambling expansion, a bill gained serious momentum in the opening months of 2019
- That bill has now been signed into law by the governor, making casinos and online gaming legal in the state
Move to legalization
For many years, Virginia was very conservative about gambling. The only opportunities resident had to gamble were on horse racing and the state lottery.
This meant that gambling revenues for the state were low and a lot of residents would go elsewhere to get their gambling fix. There were numerous attempts over the years to expand gambling laws in the state, but to no avail.
A lot of these options did not even get approval from a committee to go to a vote in the legislature. However, there has been a change in the state over the past 12 months.
Toward the end of 2018, many people began pushing for legal commercial casinos, in particular for developing one in Bristol. Several nearby states have been expanding their gambling laws and Virginia was at risk of being left behind.
Before the end of the year, a bill focusing on gambling expansion was submitted by Louise Lucas, a Democratic state senator.
Senate Bill 1126 was introduced on December 28. It first went to the Committee on General Laws and Technology, which on January 21 began considering the bill.
The committee approved it by a 9-3 vote. It then went to the Finance Committee, which favored it by 11-5.
On January 31, there was a reading of the bill in the State Senate and some potential amendments were suggested. It passed the Senate by a 28-12 vote on February 4 without any amendments.
The House Rules Committee also approved it, a 12-5 vote and it was passed by the House, 80-17.
A substitute bill was proposed, leading to a drawn-out debate that resulted in a compromise that was approved by both chambers.
The bill went to Governor Ralph Northam on March. After considering the issue, he signed it on March 22. This means that casinos and online gaming are now legal in Virginia.
Details of this bill
The Virginia Lottery Board will regulate the new casino sector. Only cities that can meet certain criteria will be allowed to host casinos.
There will also have to be a public referendum on the issue in any city that seeks a casino. Regulations on the sector have not yet been established.
The bill calls for the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission to review casino laws in other states and report back to the relevant committee for general laws by December 1. A framework for the regulations will then be created.
Referendums in the chosen cities will have to take place before January 1, 2021, and regulations will have to be put in place by the Virginia Lottery Board by July 1, 2020.
The cities that meet the criteria established in the bill are Norfolk, Richmond, Portsmouth, Danville, and Bristol. Norfolk and Richmond may host tribal casinos run by the Pamunkey Indian Tribe. If so, there will be no commercial casinos in these cities.
There is a minor mention of online gaming in this bill. It appears to allow the Virginia Lottery Board to issue licenses in the future for online gaming, specifically in the casino space.
Naturally, it will take a while for individual casinos to be approved. The regulations need to be in place first and the cities need to hold their public referendums. Then there will be a bidding process for operators to win licenses. It looks as if the first casinos will not be open for business until 2021.