Sports Betting Lobbying Increases in Virginia

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Slot machine manufacturers, Caesars, and MGM Grand have been hiring lobbyists in the last several weeks to represent their sports betting interests in the upcoming session in the Virginia General Assembly.

The different stakeholders have different goals and interests, of course, but the casinos definitely want legalized sports betting. Since the Supreme Court overturned the federal ban on sports betting outside of Nevada in May this year, several states have taken steps to legalize, regulate, and begin operations at sportsbooks. The SCOTUS decision left it open to individual states to pass legislation surrounding sports gambling.

Brian Hess is a lobbyist for the Sports Fans Coalition, which speaks up for consumer protections like privacy, transparency, and the right for gambling addicts to self-exclude. In an article from Virginia Mercury, Hess discussed the likelihood of sports betting in Virginia:

“I can almost guarantee you there will be legislation for sports betting in Virginia.”

Furthermore, he explained, Virginia was the first state to legalize daily fantasy sports sites, in 2016, and that makes it more likely to go ahead with legalizing sports gambling.

Gambling in Virginia

One of only 10 states that have zero form of casino gambling, Virginia is neighbored by several states that do offer casinos: North Carolina, West Virginia, and Maryland. Virginia declined to allow riverboat gambling in the ‘90s, banned Internet gambling cafes in the 2000s, and has continually resisted a casino bill that was proposed for the first time five years ago.

Past Opposition Turning into Acceptance?

In the past, state legislators have been against initiatives to broaden the gambling scene in Virginia but they gave permission to Colonial Downs earlier this year to install gaming machines similar to slots at off-track and track betting parlors across the state. The Virginia Racing Commission is allowing 3,000 of these machines.

The Pamunkey Indian Tribe is going after a $700 million casino in New Kent County, just up the highway from Colonial Downs. The tribe has partnered with a billionaire investor and the tribe has the right to request the casino under federal recognition it won in 2016.

Elsewhere in Virginia, a local business group in Bristol is starting a huge lobbying effort to gain approval to open a destination casino resort in what is now an empty shopping mall.

Historically, both Democrats and Republicans have unanimously opposed legislation to open a casino in Portsmouth.

Gambling in Maryland

Just across the Potomac River in Maryland, at least 40 percent of the casino business comes from Virginia. In March of this year, the six casinos in Maryland generated over $44 million for the Old Line State’s education trust fund. Lawmakers in Virginia are starting to realize that is money they could be keeping in their own state, should they allow casinos and sports betting.

Lobbyists for Gambling and Sports Betting

So far, seven lobbyists have registered to represent the developer of the destination casino resort in Bristol, and they are saying it’s going to create jobs and tax revenue for the state. Rob Jones of the Alliance Group, which is in charge of PR for the project, says that for that part of the state, which has struggled economically, a casino would be a huge economic opportunity for Southwest Virginia.

What the Legislators are Saying

Earlier this year, House Speaker Kirk Cox told the Washington Post that he doesn’t “believe opening the commonwealth to casino gambling is in the state’s long-term best interests.”

General Assembly members who represent the Southwest part of the state have declined to comment as of this date.

The chief of staff for state Senator Charles Carrico (R-Grayson), said he hasn’t made up his mind and is still talking to his constituents. However, if legislation goes forward, it should require a local referendum for approval before any casino projects are allowed to begin.

Despite the longstanding opposition to gambling within Virginia’s borders, the soften stance by some legislators and the increased lobbying from pro-gambling organizations appears to be making a difference. Virginia would be smart to legalize gambling and sports betting, instead of residents heading to neighboring states to gamble and spend their money.

Rick Rockwell

As a longtime freelance writer, avid sports fan, former athlete, and experienced sports bettor, Rick Rockwell has risen up the ranks at to become the self-professed "King of the Blog" in his first year with the site. ...

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