Virginia Senate Rejects House Changes to Casino Bill

  • House voted for Senate’s bill with changes, Senate rejected modifications
  • Conference committee formed to resolve differences
  • Senate bill would impose higher tax rates for casinos
  • Legislation authorizes casinos in five Virginia cities
close-up of Virginia on map
The Virginia Senate unanimously voted against the House’s changes to the casino legalization bill. [Image:]

Conference committee to settle matters

The Virginia Senate has rejected a House substitute of Senate Bill 36, which would legalize casino gambling in the state.

The Senate originally passed the legislation two weeks ago, after which it advanced to the House of Delegates. The House also approved it but with a substitute bill. The Senate did not accept the changes proposed, with the rejection being a unanimous one.

As both the Senate and House are in favor of legalizing casino gambling in the Commonwealth of Virginia, the House requested a conference committee on Wednesday. Such a group is typically made up of a few members from each chamber that gets together to work out differences. The Senate agreed, also requesting a conference committee. Its members have since been appointed.

The conference committee is expected to reach an agreement by the time the Virginia General Assembly adjourns on March 7.

Chambers differ on taxes

The bone of contention between the Senate and House revolves around tax rates on casinos. The Senate’s tax plan is simpler than that proposed by the House, but it is also pricier for the casinos.

Senate’s tax plan is simpler than that proposed by the House, but it is also pricier

The Senate wants to tax casinos with adjusted gross revenue (AGR) up to $150 million at a 27 percent rate. AGR from $150 million to $300 million would be taxed at a marginal rate of 31 percent (that is, only the second $150 million will be taxed at that rate, not the entire AGR). The marginal tax rate on AGR over $300 million would be 40 percent.

The House’s tax plan divides casinos into two groups: those that invest $250 million to $350 million and those that invest more than $350 million. The AGR brackets would be the same as the Senate’s for the former, with tax rates of 15 percent, 20 percent, and 28 percent, respectively.

For the larger casinos, the first $200 million of AGR would be taxed at 15 percent. The second $200 million would have a marginal rate of 20 percent, and AGR above $400 million would incur a tax rate of 28 percent.

As many as five cities could have casinos

Should the Senate and House come to an agreement and get the bill through, it would authorize the construction of casinos in five Virginia cities: Bristol, Danville, Norfolk, Portsmouth, and Richmond, the state capital.

The cities were determined through specific qualification criteria. The requirements included a combination of a certain unemployment rate, poverty rate, and population decrease. The idea was to help boost the cities’ economies.

Just because a bill passes – even the governor signs it into law – doesn’t mean those cities will get casinos. Local referendums must succeed for casinos to get the green light.

Local referendums must succeed for casinos to get the green light

Tribes and gaming companies have been lining up to try to win the business. Rush Street Gaming is looking at Portsmouth, while Hard Rock International and the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians want to build in Bristol. The Pamunkey Indian Tribe is targeting both Richmond and Norfolk.