Virginia Commercial Casino Legalization Bill Moves Forward

  • Senate Bill 36 calls for the legalization of commercial casinos in five of the state's cities
  • It will advance to the main committee and House after the subcommittee voted in favor 
  • The bill follows 2019 legislation that commissioned a study on the casinos' potential impact 
Richmond, Virginia
Virginia’s casino legalization bill has gotten approval from a Senate subcommittee and will now pass on to a committee and House hearing. [Image: Shutterstock.com]

The latest positive step

The Senate General Laws and Technology Subcommittee on Gaming in Virginia has passed Senate Bill 36, which calls for the legalization of commercial casinos in the state. Its legislation would enable five cities to develop commercial casino resorts.

Bill 36 was initially proposed in November 2019 by the Senate President Pro Tempore, Louise Lucas. It will now be referred back to the entire Committee on General Laws and Technology on Wednesday. The House will then consider the issue on Thursday. 

legislation would enable five cities to develop commercial casino resorts

Both chambers will need to greenlight the bill by the February 11 crossover date for it to get full approval in the current legislative session.

Building on past progress

Senate Bill 36 is a continuation of Senate Bill 1126, which resulted in the 2019 Virginia casino law. This previous bill, signed by Governor Ralph Northam, was limited to commissioning an official study into the potential impact a casino development would have on the five cities that meet the qualification criteria. 

A number of parties are already preparing for the legalization of these casinos, with several casino resort proposals already put forward. However, a public vote would be required before any form of casino license is issued. A simple majority in a ballot referendum would get these measures over the line.

The potential regulatory framework

The Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission has been looking at commercial casino regulations in other states to aid it in developing rules for Virginia. 

Under the proposed regulatory framework, the Virginia Lottery would be in charge of regulation in the sector. There would be a 27% tax rate on gross gaming revenue. Of these tax funds, 89% would go to the general state fund, with 10% going towards the host city and 1% to help fight problem gambling. 

For a casino project to get consideration, there needs to be an investment of at least $200m. Among the operators who already pitched casino resort developments in the state are the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, the Pamunkey Indian Tribe, Hard Rock, and Rush Street Gaming.

The push for gambling expansion

Virginia is one of only a few states in the country that has neither tribal nor commercial casinos. However, over the past year, a movement towards generating new forms of revenue saw the idea of commercial gambling get considerable support.

Qualification requirements were put in place for a city to be able to host a casino. These included an unemployment rate of at least 5% in 2018, a minimum poverty rate of 20% in 2017, and a decrease in population of 20% or more between 1990 and 2016.

The five cities that met the criteria were Norfolk, Portsmouth, Danville, Bristol, and Richmond.