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Governor’s Signature Sows Seeds For Virginia Online Gambling, Sports Betting

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The Virginia Legislature has passed a sweeping gambling expansion bill containing mechanisms that could bring casinos, sports betting, and online gambling to the Commonwealth.

The legislation cleared the Senate (30-10) and the House (64-33) in late February before Gov. Ralph Northam signed the bill into law on Friday, according to The Roanoke Times.

A brief history of the Virginia gambling bill

Pre-filed by Sen. L. Louise Lucas in December, SB 1126, began life as an expansion of land-based gaming. It is an issue Virginia lawmakers have considered in previous sessions.

The casino bill went through a number of revisions and amendments during its three-month run through the legislature. The result was something altogether different than past efforts.

One of the last additions could be one of the most consequential. The words “online gaming” were added to the definition of casino gaming.

“Casino gaming” means baccarat, blackjack, twenty-one, poker, craps, dice, slot machines, sports betting, roulette wheels, Klondike tables, punchboards, faro layouts, keno layouts, numbers tickets, push cards, jar tickets, pull tabs, online gaming, and any other activity that is authorized by the Board as a wagering game or device under Chapter 41 (§ 58.1-4100 et seq.).”

A bill that is short on specifics

Before you get too excited, the Virginia gaming bill is ambiguous. The legislation requires multiple facilitating actions before any gambling expansion becomes reality.

  • Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC) will deliver a report on casino gaming laws in other states by Dec. 1.
  • The Board will then use the first half of 2020 to promulgate regulations for implementation.
  • The 2020 legislature must reenact the bill.

In laymen’s terms, the bill won’t be official until:

  • A review of best practices is conducted and submitted to the Lottery Board.
  • Regulators create rules for casino gambling (and possibly VA sports betting apps and online gambling).
  • Based on those regulations, the legislature will decide if it wants to re-enact the bill.

If that all comes to fruition, local lawmakers can then hold referendums in qualifying locations.

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Online gambling, sports betting are no slam-dunk

One of the more interesting parts of the bill is the power it appears to give the VA Lottery Board to authorize different types of gaming. The bill contains detailed provisions for casinos, but it only mentions sports betting and online gambling once apiece.

Precisely how sports betting or online gambling would be carried out — tax rates, market access, responsible gaming policies — is a complete unknown. If they end up being part of the equation, regulators will likely limit licensure to land-based casinos.

As noted above, though, the law doesn’t require them to include online gaming and/or sports betting.

The board could:

  • Tackle one or both of these issues alongside casinos
  • Shelve online gambling and/or sports betting so as not to muddy the waters
  • Ignore one or both indefinitely

This story will continue to develop over the next 12-18 months.

- Steve covers nearly every angle of online poker in his job as a full-time freelance poker writer. His primary focus for OPR is the developing legal and legislative picture for regulated US online poker and gambling.
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