Virginia Senator Has Long Sought To Legalize Casinos

Virginia Inches Forward On Gambling Front With Introduction Of New Bill Classifying Poker As Game Of Skill

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A new gambling bill in Virginia would legalize poker as a game of skill and create regulation to oversee live poker tournaments.

The Virginia gambling and poker bill, at a glance

The new bill is S 1400 — introduced by Sen. Louise Lucas. It would change the state code as it relates to gambling on several fronts, including further defining what constitutes “illegal gambling” and “charitable gaming” in the state.

Poker = game of skill

Under the definition of “illegal gambling” in the bill, poker is exempted. Here’s the key passage:

Poker games shall be deemed games of skill, and nothing in this subdivision shall be construed to make any such game illegal gambling.

Attempting to classify poker as a game of skill outside of gambling has been a constant refrain for the game in the US. It’s a concept that the courts have upheld on occasion.

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Virginia can regulate poker

Beyond saying poker is not illegal in Virginia, the bill goes even further, creating an article in the state code pertaining to “Regulation of Poker Tournaments”:

Poker tournaments as defined in this article and authorized herein shall be permitted in the Commonwealth, but shall be conducted only in strict compliance with the provisions of this article.

The Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services is vested with control of all poker tournaments in the Commonwealth. The Charitable Gaming Board shall have the power to prescribe regulations and conditions under which such tournaments are conducted to ensure that they are conducted in a manner consistent with this article.

The bill then goes into great detail regarding the regulation of live poker tournaments in the state.

The backstory of Virginia and gambling

Virginia isn’t a state known for its gambling. It does have a lottery, and it used to conduct horse racing at Colonial Downs before that facility shut down in recent years. It continues to lag far behind other states in the region — including neighboring Maryland — that have embraced casinos.

The effort from Lucas would appear to stem at least partially from a case that came of Portsmouth, which is the jurisdiction she represents. There, a resident operated poker halls that would eventually be shut down in 2010 by a commonwealth’s attorney under illegal gambling laws.

The state Supreme Court decided not to take up the case, leaving up in the air the question of whether poker is a game of skill in Virginia.

More from the Washington Post in the wake of that case:

The funny thing about Virginia law (but not funny “ha ha”) is that it allows “any contest of speed or skill between men, animals, fowl or vehicles.”

Lucas has long sought, in vain, to bring legal gambling to Virginia, so trying to legalize poker only could be seen as a baby step toward that end.

More from Lucas in an op-ed from November:

Ten different bills over four years have been introduced by Sen. Louise Lucas to create a state entity to regulate Virginia casinos, but none has passed a committee.

Also of note: Early in 2016, Virginia was the first of eight states to legalize and regulate paid-entry fantasy sports contests.

- Dustin Gouker has been a sports journalist for more than 15 years, working as a reporter, editor and designer -- including stops at The Washington Post and the D.C. Examiner. He has played poker recreationally for his entire adult life and has written about poker since 2008.
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