Casino and betting bill passed by Virginia Senate Committee

24 January 2019

A bill that would clear the way for the first land-based casinos to be opened in Virginia, as well as legalising sports betting, has been passed by the Senate Committee on General Laws and Technology.

SB1126, introduced by Democrat Senator Louise Lucas, would legalise casino gaming in the state. Casinos would be restricted to cities with an unemployment rate of at least 4%, a poverty rate of 20%, and which had experienced a population decline of at least 7% between 1990 and 2016.

The bill proposes issuing one casino licence for each eligible city, with a tribal casino permitted in cities with a population of at least 200,000, and in which 24% of all real estate are exempt from local property taxes.

Casinos would be able to offer table, dice and slot games, as well as sports betting, though there is no provision for online gaming or wagering.

Each local authority would be required to secure approval for the casino from residents, through a local referendum, with the Virginia Lottery Board responsible for regulating the market.

The venues would pay a tax of 10% of gross revenue, with takings divided between a number of causes. A share of tax revenue will be divided between the State General Fund and two new entities established through the act. These are the Virginia Public School Construction Grants Program and Fund, which will fund repairs and building of schools and the Problem Gambling Treatment and Support Fund.

A further portion the tax revenue will be allocated to the State Local Casino Gaming Proceeds Fund, which will be established through the act to ensure local authorities benefit from the casinos.

The cities in which the venues are based will also receive a share, as will another new body, the Regional Improvement Commission. This will fund improvements to transportation in the local area.

The bill was passed by the Senate Committee on General Laws and Technology with nine voting in favour, three against and one abstaining. It now passes to the Senate Finance Committee for further scrutiny, after being combined with two other bills to legalise casino gaming, SB1503 and SB1706.

Efforts to legalise sports betting alone are also in play in the Virginia legislature, with Delegate Marcus Simon introducing a bill to regulate wagering and allow online lottery sales introduced in the House of Representatives. That bill, which was pre-filed in 2018, has been assigned to the House Committee on Rules.