On Saturday, Feb. 23, the Virginia House of Delegates voted 64-33 in favor of SB1126, which authorizes up to five terrestrial casinos to be built in the state. Having already received the approval of the Senate earlier, the legislation now proceeds to the desk of Governor Ralph Northam (D) who is expected to sign it into law. Currently, there aren't any casinos allowed anywhere in Virginia.
Under the terms of the new law, commercial casinos can be built in Portsmouth, Danville, and Bristol. In addition, the Pamunkey Tribe will be allowed to establish tribal gaming facilities in Norfolk and Richmond.
Each of these locales will only be able to host a single casino apiece. Furthermore, in order for casino gambling to take place in a city, the local community must vote in favor of it at the polls.
Oversight will be exercised by the Virginia Lottery Board. The types of games permitted in the casinos will include:
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
Only casino development projects that involve the investment of at least $200 million in capital are authorized by the bill. Licensees will have to pay a $50,000 nonrefundable fee. Each license will be valid “for the period set by the Board, which shall be no less than 10 years.”
In addition to the upfront fee, casino operators will have to pay a tax on gross gaming receipts that will start at 14% for the first year. Every subsequent year, the tax rate will depend upon the previous year's adjusted gross receipts:
The funds collected from these taxes will be divided as follows:
Though the recently passed SB1126 envisions as many as five casinos opening up in the Old Dominion, there's every likelihood that we'll see fewer than this. Indeed, it's possible that no casinos will be set up. This is because of the list of steps that the legislation calls for before any casinos can be licensed and the rigid time windows during which these waypoints must be achieved.
First of all, nothing can happen on this front until a Gaming Study Commission delivers its report to the General Assembly no later than November 1, 2019. The Commission will evaluate the policy goals of expanded gambling in Virginia, the desired outcomes, economic and social impacts, et cetera.
Then, in order for the bill to remain valid, it will have to be reenacted during the 2020 legislative session, which begins in January of that year. Meanwhile, the Virginia Lottery Board will begin working on regulations governing gambling at casinos from January 1 - June 30, 2020. It will then be able to issue licenses beginning July 1.
The first opportunity for voters to approve casinos in their local areas will be during the elections in November 2020. However, all of these votes must take place before January 2021 under the terms of the bill. This means basically that the five designated cities have just a single election to OK local casinos before this window closes.
Assuming the newly passed law actually results in gaming venues appearing within the state, this will represent a big change from present conditions. Currently, there's only the Virginia Lottery, a few charitable gaming outlets, off-track betting, and advanced deposit pari-mutuel wagering available to those in the state who enjoy a flutter now and again.
Besides the typical casino fare, like slots, roulette, and blackjack, perhaps the most exciting new pastimes mentioned in SB1126 are brick-and-mortar poker and sports betting, this latter activity having been opened up to state licensure by the February 2018 Supreme Court decision in the Murphy case.
Online gaming is also listed as something that could theoretically be implemented in a few years. However, another part of the law states: “Wagers may be received only from a person present at the licensed casino gaming establishment.” Thus, any games offered over the internet will likely be very limited in nature. Online card game aficionados will probably have to continue to frequent offshore Virginia poker sites to find the kind of action they desire. Still, if legalized internet real money wagering does appear within the state at some point, a drive to expand it beyond the tight constraints of the newly passed law will undoubtedly materialize.
Despite the fact that VA casino gambling is still years away, if it will ever come at all, casino interests are already planning for it. Perhaps the most serious effort at present to develop a casino is that proposed by the Bristol Resort and Casino Virginia, which intends to transform the vacant Bristol Mall into a gaming space that will “provide 5,200 direct jobs with an average salary of $46,000, within seven years.”
This group released a statement expressing their approval of the legalization of casinos in the state:
We are pleased that the General Assembly has created a framework for moving forward with this project. We look forward to working with the Governor on this legislation. The resort and casino will provide a major economic boost to the city of Bristol, as well as the entire Southwest Virginia and Tri-Cities region.
Until the authorities get the superstructure of casino gambling up and running in Virginia, its residents have recourse to online options. Almost all of the online casinos that accept Americans happily transact with Virginians, and you can read our list of the top USA-friendly internet casinos. For poker rooms, check out our overview of USA online poker. If betting on sports is more your cup of tea, then you can sign up at any of our recommended offshore sportsbooks.