Virginia Lawmakers Approve Expanded Gambling

Virginia is one step closer to gambling expansion after legislators approved measures to allow for online sports betting, casinos, and more slot machines. As one of a few remaining states that currently outlaw casinos, the changes could introduce a major new revenue stream to state coffers if approved by voters.

City skyline of Richmond Virginia.

Lawmakers in Richmond, Virginia, have approved a major gambling expansion bill which will allow for the construction of six new casinos and land-based and online sports betting. ©Stephen Poore/Unsplash

The bill seeks to allow for the construction of five casinos in Bristol, Danville, Richmond, Norfolk, and Portsmouth. In order for them to be built, local referendums will need to take place in each city to determine whether voters would like to see them in their towns.

The other features of the bill, including sports betting and an increase in slot-like machines, will also need to be approved by Governor Ralph Northam before they can become law. Northam’s signing is not yet guaranteed, as stakeholders on both sides of the gambling expansion debate continue to argue on the matter.

In January this year, Northam stated that he was open to expanded gambling on the ground that lawmakers came up with legislation that would guarantee consumer safety.

“My philosophy is Virginia needs to be very thoughtful in its approach. If we’re going to expand gambling, we need to [introduce expanded gambling] responsibly.”Ralph Northam, Governor, Virginia

“These are going to be thoroughly vetted by our legislators”, Northam added.

Democratic Senator Louise Lucas, a longtime proponent of gambling expansion, believes that most lawmakers approved the bill due to the realization that the state was losing out on revenues to neighboring states. Other proponents point to the job opportunities and tax revenues generated by large-scale casino resorts in struggling areas.

There are a number of interests that will benefit from gambling expansion, including developers, local governments, casino operators and tribal groups. A spokesman for the Pamunkey Indian Tribe, which seeks to build casinos in Richmond and Norfolk, has stated the casinos will ensure “the long-term success of the tribe.”

Meanwhile, conservative critics have argued that the casinos would only benefit wealthy operators and developers while preying on the poor. Republican Senator David Suetterlein has stated that the measures were pushed by rich out-of-state interests and would only serve to “exploit a lot of Virginians.”

Despite the criticisms, many experts believe that the benefits far outweigh the risk, as a recent industry report revealed in November last year. One such stipulation of the bill even outlaws so-called “gray-machines”, a controversial slot-like machine that has spread across the state’s convenience stores in recent years without regulation.

What to Expect in the Coming Months

One feature of the bill seeks to increase the number of horse-racing machines that could be operated at satellite locations of the state’s only horse track, Colonial Downs. The machines were first approved two years ago to increase interest in live horse racing, with 1,650 more now allowed at a new establishment.

As for when Virginia residents can expect to wager on sports, the timeline is still unknown. However, regulations must be finalized by September 15, with licenses being able to be issued 60 days after regulations are announced. This would mean sports betting will start by November at the very latest.

Virginians looking forward to betting on their favorite local college teams will be disappointed by a ban on betting on Virginia-based teams. These restrictions were implemented after concerns were raised by presidents of college teams on the grounds of maintaining the integrity of local teams and preventing unnecessary player stress.

The bill also outlined that the Virginia Lottery will issue between four and 12 sports betting licenses to online-only operators. Considering that the five potential new casinos could apply to operate online sportsbooks, there could be potentially 18 online sports betting operators taking bets in Virginia.

In order to earn a license, operators will need to pay $250,000 for an initial three-year license, and $200,000 upon renewal. Revenue will be taxed at 15%. Casino developers who pledge to invest $250 million or more will also get preferred consideration for a license.

The state has also announced that a professional sports team from a major sports league that relocates to Virginia would also get preferred consideration for a license. This could be enough of an incentive for the Redskins to move to Virginia, with the team currently looking for a new home.

It is believed that Redskins owner Dan Snyder has already chosen a plot of land in Virginia that could be a new site for a Redskins stadium. With their current lease at FedEx Field in Washington expiring at the end of the 2026 season, the ability to allow on-site partnership with a sports betting operator could be just what Snyder needs to decide on the move.

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Exterior of casino with sports book advertised in neon letters.

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