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Gambling Online in Virginia

Virginia

It would be natural to assume that Virginia would have been caught up in the waves of expansion that have taken the Northeastern gambling market by storm. But while many of its neighbors have been adding casinos and resorts by the boatload, we have largely remained on the sidelines, and you won’t find any major gaming venues here.

That reluctance has also played out in the world of Internet casinos. Our government has yet to take any steps towards regulating online games, and based on what we’ve seen so far, we don’t expect them to be one of the next states to take up the idea.

Horse Racing, But Not Much Else

The modern gaming industry first began to take off in the early 1970s, when Virginia first allowed for charitable gambling games to be operated in the state. These games are still legal today, though they are now overseen by the government (control had previously belonged to local and county officials).

One major step in the history of our gaming industry came in 1987, when voters came out in favor of allowing the creation of a lottery, with all proceeds benefitting the educational system. Tickets first went on sale in 1988, and have since remained popular, bringing in well over $500 million annually in recent years. Both Mega Millions and Powerball are still offered, while several local drawings and scratch off tickets are also offered for sale.

The biggest part of the state’s gambling offerings, however, comes through the horse racing industry. In 1989, the state created the Virginia Racing Commission to oversee parimutuel betting here, and though there were no tracks here at the time, an industry did slowly develop. By 1997, Colonial Downs had opened for business, and it remained the only track in the state up through early 2015, when the track closed, at least for the time being.

However, the industry now goes far beyond hosting live races in the state. Starting in 2003, the state began offering off-track betting, and in 2004, terminals started to be installed at restaurants and bars throughout the state that allowed for remote betting. That means that even if things never get back on track at Colonial Downs, parimutuel wagering will remain an important part of the gaming landscape for some time to come.

But what about casinos? Unfortunately for those who might want to play slots or hit the blackjack tables, resort gaming has never really taken off here. Over the past two decades, there have been attempts to allow for at least riverboat casinos, but multiple bills have come and gone without being passed. That means that typically, Virginians who want to take their chances at a casino will drive to Maryland, Pennsylvania, Delaware, or Atlantic City to play.

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No Push for Internet Regulation

States that don’t have much of a land-based casino market typically don’t show any interest in online gaming, and Virginia has so far fit cleanly into that category. There have been no serious efforts to push for a licensing scheme here, and what little polling has been done hasn’t suggested that our population is clamoring for Internet gambling sites to be regulated.

However, it’s still very possible for Virginians to play at Internet casinos if they want to. Many highly-regarded and trustworthy overseas online gambling operators offer their games here, regarding Virginia (and much of the United States) as a true grey market – one where there is no regulatory framework for them to apply for a license through, but still somewhere where they can operate. The state has no laws criminalizing playing on these sites, so players here can freely sign up and try their luck for real money with no risk of legal complications.

Horse Racing Could See Changes

While it is very important to the state, horse racing appears to be in quite a bit of turmoil in Virginia. Starting in fall 2014, owners, trainers, and the operators of Colonial Downs found they could no longer agree on what the track’s schedule should look like. By early 2015, that decision led to a complete shutdown of operations by the track, as the state began diverting funds to a new organization designed to build racing from the ground up in other parts of Virginia.

Accusations have flown back and forth between the government and the track’s owner, with Governor Terry McAuliffe saying that Jacobs Entertainment had tried to “strong-arm” them into accepting fewer high-quality races, while horsemen and breeders wanted a larger, more varied schedule. For their part, the track says they still hope to see racing return in 2016, but it is unclear how likely this is to happen: The governor has said that any plan must make fiscal sense in order to be approved.

Meanwhile, even the off-track betting systems are facing issues. One of the three companies that runs the advance deposit wagering system has lost its license after they failed to pay a large fee that was meant to go to a local horsemen’s group. The turmoil won’t destroy the future of racing here – the Virginia Equine Alliance has started to put together some events at temporary venues – but it has certainly been concerning for breeders, trainers, and owners alike.

Beyond what might change because of these concerns, however, there aren’t any other obvious issues to keep an eye on here. Casino gaming is still a longshot, though it is always possible that riverboats get yet another look. Meanwhile, it seems highly doubtful that online casinos will even get a passing mention in the state legislature. While Virginia could someday be a part of a wider Internet gaming network, it is pretty clear they don’t plan on being an early adopter.

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