A bill that would allow five Virginia towns to pursue casino gambling passed through a Senate committee over the holiday weekend.
S 1126, introduced by Sen. Louise Lucas, cleared the Committee on General Laws and Technology by a 9-3-1 vote on Monday. It now heads to the Finance Committee for another round of consideration.
Amendments from the sponsors this week seek to balance the state’s desire for caution against the ambition of prospective operators to move quickly.
Lucas’ bill would allow voters in Bristol, Danville and Portsmouth to authorize the construction of casinos in their towns. The Pamunkey Indian Tribe would also be allowed to pursue a casino in either Norfolk or Richmond.
According to the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Gov. Ralph Northam would prefer a comprehensive study on the potential impacts before moving ahead with casino legislation. Gaming stakeholders, however, have urged lawmakers to move quickly to mitigate the loss of gaming revenue to neighboring jurisdictions.
Both land-based casinos and online gambling have begun to permeate the mid-Atlantic in recent years.
The bill would not allow any Virginia casino project to move ahead without two key components in place:
As written, casino operators would pay a one-time application fee of $50,000, and gross gaming revenue would be taxed at 10 percent. State officials would wait until July 1, 2020, before issuing the first licenses.
“I view this as a process,” Sen. Scott Surovell told the Times-Dispatch. “This bill’s probably going to be amended by three or four committees and the governor by the time we get it.”
The bill also requires a fiscal impact study before Nov. 1.
One noteworthy addition to Lucas’ bill is the inclusion of sports betting in the definition of approved “casino gaming.”
Following the May 2018 decision by the US Supreme Court, states have been quick to capitalize on their newfound opportunity. The Commonwealth, though, has fallen behind in the count.
Across the Potomac River, the nation’s capital is moving ahead with its effort to bring sports betting to the district. West Virginia was one of the first states to legalize sports gambling within its borders, and Pennsylvania recently began rolling out its own regulated industry.
The longer Virginia waits, the more gaming revenue will continue to slip across the borders.
The Senate bill does not include any provisions for online gambling, but all forms of expansion are on the table this year. A separate effort in the lower chamber, H 2210, would legalize internet sports betting and online lottery sales.
The Pamunkey have been pursuing a casino in Virginia for quite some time.
In March, the tribe’s council approved the idea of a $700 million facility in either Richmond or Norfolk. The casino is projected to have an economic impact of $1 billion per year, including the creation of some 4,000 jobs.
The federal government officially recognized the tribe in 2015, giving them the authority to pursue casino gambling in the state. According to the Washington Post, several groups — including MGM — expressed opposition to its new status.