Virginia Advances Casino Gambling, Sports Betting Bill

The Virginia General Assembly has made a historic move by supporting the legalization of sports betting and casino gambling by passing Senate Bill 1126 which seeks to have casinos established in certain cities around the state. The gambling expansion bill is also the very first one in the recent past that has survived the Senate which has a reputation for dispelling any and all forms of gambling-related bills.

The Terms

Now that the hardest part of the process is complete, all that remains is for the state’s governor to sign the bill into law – while seemingly simple, this part of the process is just as crucial as every other part of the process. In Michigan, a gaming bill made it through the lawmakers but the governor chose to veto it. Fortunately, there is very little likelihood that this will happen in Virginia primarily because Gov. Ralph Northam says that he will support the gaming bill if it is beneficial for the state. So far, a gaming industry in the state seems to be a very promising idea not just for the operators and the residents but also for the state authorities and regulators who are going to rake in millions in tax revenue.

Senate Bill 1126 has some rather strict stipulations that will determine whether a state qualifies to host a casino. These include requirements that:

  • 40 percent of the land area of the city must be exempt from local real property taxation, or 24 percent provided that a Virginia Indian Tribe conducts such casino gaming.
  • the unemployment rate was at least 5 percent in November 2017 (or 4 percent if located adjacent to a state that has adopted a Border Region Retail Tourism Development District Act), a poverty rate of at least 20 percent in 2016, and a population decrease of at least 4 percent from 1990 to 2016.
  • the city has a population of more than 200,000 according to the 2017 population estimates.

In addition to that, the local authorities and the residents of the qualifying cities will have to be consulted extensively before the grant of a License to any casino – the Virginia Lottery Board will be responsible for the licensing.

Sports Betting and Online Gambling

While the major focus is currently on the land-based casinos, the bill further contains mechanisms that will see the launch of sports betting and online betting in the state. According to the bill, online gaming will be under the umbrella of “casino gaming”. The Virginia Lottery Board will, therefore, still be responsible for awarding licenses for these verticals – it will also be required to craft rules and regulation for the state’s gambling industry.

Virginia General Assembly Passes Casino Legislation

Last Saturday, the General Assembly of the state of Virginia passed compromise legislation that would effectively introduce the state – and Danville – to casino gaming in the near future, that is, if the governor decides to sign it into law.

According to Substitute Senate Bill 1126, the aforementioned legislation, the Virginia Lottery Board is authorized to regulate the yet-to-be-launched casino gaming industry in the state. Before that, there will have to be a framework for licenses and the bill, of course, clearly outlines these licensing requirements. It also specified both the civil and criminal penalties that operators would be subject to in case they violated the terms of the casino gaming law.

Moreover, casino gaming will still be limited to specific areas or cities that will meet the criteria that are outlined in the bill. For the selected cities, a referendum will have to be held so that the residents can vote on whether they agree to the establishment of a gaming facility. This is expected to be done by the end of 2020 which implies that it will certainly take a bit of time before casino gaming makes it to some places in the state. For instance, as it stands, Richmond and Norfolk have been identified as potential sites for a casino owned and operated by the Pamunkey Indian Tribe.

Recommendations and Taxes

A clause of the bill requires that a recommendation for casino gaming in the state to be filed with the concerned parties by the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission by November 1 this year. This is further complemented by a re-enactment clause for the referenda provisions outlined by the bill. However, unless the bill is re-enacted by the 2020 session of the General Assembly, no referenda can occur. Also, unless the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission’s findings and recommendations with regards to casino gaming are published by the specified date, there will be no referenda.

As for taxes, if passed, the bill would impose a tax range of between 13 and 15 percent of the adjusted gross revenue of the state’s licensed casino operators. This would be based on the operators’ annual adjusted gross receipts.  The bill will further outline how the tax proceeds will be disbursed after collection.

As mentioned earlier, the Virginia Lottery Board would be responsible for regulating the gaming industry and this will involve actual development of the rules that conform to the provisions of the gaming act. The time period for this has been set for between January 1, 2020, and June 30, 2020. One of the prime considerations is the establishment and implementation of a voluntary self-exclusion program that will allow individuals to protect themselves from gambling-related harm.

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