Senate Committee in Virginia Approves Casino Bill

Rubber stamp says APPROVED

 

30-second summary

  • Senate Committee on General Laws and Technology passes casino bill after significant changes
  • Bill includes casino projects in five cities plus a casino for the Pamunkey Tribe
  • Lawmakers added language to allow changes next year if they choose
  • The bill now moves to the Senate Finance Committee for discussion

A Senate committee has approved a casino bill in Virginia for further discussion. The legislation would allow five cities in the state to host casinos. The approval was given only after the addition of a study and referendum clause to appease all lawmakers and give more time for consideration.

Vote of approval

On a vote of 9-3-1, the Senate Committee on General Laws and Technology approved the bill, which covers two areas. First, it would allow five casinos in the state. Included in the mix are casino projects for Portsmouth, Bristol, and Danville.

The bill also includes the casino that the Pamunkey Indian Tribe wants to build. The tribe is negotiating a deal in Norfolk, and the area of Richmond is included in the bill as another potential site for a casino.

In any case, not one of the cities will be allowed to add a casino until a voter referendum that is required by the bill. The residents must approve the move before action can be taken.

The bill now moves on to the Senate Finance Committee. The General Laws Committee voted to move the bill for further discussions. The group wants to see financial and regulatory effects studied.

Governor on board?

Governor Ralph Northam has said that he would like major legislation involving gambling to be held off for a while because he wants the state to complete a comprehensive study. Backers of casinos for Virginia have been pushing for their projects to be completed quickly. They say that the state will continue to lose gambling dollars to neighboring states.

The modified legislation, as it stands now, seeks to accomplish several goals. The five cities in question would each hold a referendum this fall. A study will be completed by November 1, and the state would not be allowed to license any casinos until July 1, 2020.

That would give lawmakers plenty of time to review the findings of the study. They could then make any needed changes during the legislative session of 2020. The administration plans to watch the bill this year. However, it was noted that the bill already goes beyond what the governor is comfortable with.

Finance Secretary Aubrey Layne said: “I’m not saying the governor will be for it or against it—but it’s not a study. It’s a big decision. The General Assembly ought to understand that we have significant issues to deal with.”

Pamunkey Indian Tribe efforts

Separate legislation combined with the casino bill involves efforts by the Pamunkey Indian Tribe. The tribe is trying to get the required federal approval for a casino project. The project centers on sites in Norfolk and Richmond. The downside is that this process can take years to complete.

The tribe would like to see the General Assembly give them the same consideration as the other casino projects so they won’t fall behind. The Pamunkey Tribe has now stated that it is willing to operate under commercial gaming laws. The tribe would apply as a non-tribal operator.

The bill would allow the tribe to pursue a venue in Richmond or Norfolk only. In the past, the tribe was considering other areas, including Virginia Beach and Chesapeake. These areas have now been eliminated.