Virginia General Assembly clears sports betting bill

25 February 2019

The Virginia General Assembly has passed a bill that could legalise sports betting and allow land-based casinos to open in the state for the first time, with only Governor Ralph Northam left to sign the bill into law.

The state’s Senate passed the bill by a vote of 30-10, while the House also voted to adopt the bill by 64-27. The House then agreed to a reconsideration, but the bill still went through by a vote of 64-33.

Governor Northam must now sign off on the bill in order for it to come into law.

Introduced by Democrat Senator Louise Lucas, Substitute Senate Bill 1126 would legalise casino gaming, but limit it 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.

Tribal casinos would be permitted in cities with a population of at least 200,000, and in which 24% of all real estate is exempt from local property taxes. To open a casino, each local authority would need to hold a local referendum in order to gain approval from residents.

Each city would receive one licence, via which the casino could offer table, dice and slot games, as well as sports betting via land-based means only. There are no concessions for online or mobile gaming in the bill.

The Virginia Lottery Board would be responsible for regulating the market, with licensed casinos to pay tax at a rate of between 13% and 15% of gross revenue.

Should Governor Northam sign off on the bill as expected, the Virginia Lottery would begin drafting its rules and regulations by January 1, 2020, and publish a completed list by June 30, 2020. The Lottery would begin issuing licences the following day.

Image: Taber Andrew Bain