Virginia’s Senate General Laws and Technology Committee approved legislation this week that will permit casino gaming in five different cities in the state. Now, it will go before the Senate Finance Committee with the hopes of eventually becoming Virginia state law.
SB 1126, introduced by L. Louise Lucas (Dem-District 18), authorizes casino gambling in the state, to be overseen by the Virginia Lottery Board.
The bill sets out the licensing requirements and institutes penalties for violations. It also details in specifics the requirements before a city will be permitted to have a casino. These specifics include high poverty and unemployment levels, which qualifies Portsmouth, Danville, and Bristol.
It establishes the ability for any person to voluntarily bar themselves from entering any gambling establishment and also sets up the Problem Gambling Treatment and Support Fund to offer counselling and support services to problem gamblers.
Virginia would collect 10 percent tax from casinos under the bill, which is lower than all states so far aside from New Jersey and Nevada.
SB 1503 sets out requirements stating that any city with more than 200,000 people could have a casino if operated by a federally recognized tribe. The Pamunkey tribe has shown an interest and could build a casino in Richmond, Portsmouth, or Norfolk. This makes a total of five cities which could have casino gambling.
The bill requires local voters approve a casino establishment by referendum before it could apply for and receive a license from the Virginia Lottery Board. Furthermore, only one casino gambling license will be issued for each city. Senator Charles Carrico Sr. (R-Grayson) spoke on the referendum requirement:
“The one thing I’ve pushed for the most is that it puts the ultimate decision in the hands of the people in the jurisdiction directly impacted, including those associated to the Pamunkeys.”
The committee also incorporated the call for a study on casino gambling, which was called for previously by Governor Ralph Northam. The committee decided to conduct a concurrent study alongside local efforts for possible referendums. The newly combined legislation also states that no casino licenses will be issued until July 1, 2020.
Here’s how the Senate General Laws and Technology Committee voted on SB 1126:
Suetterlein said he voted “nay” because, although the bill has a provision for a gambling laws study in other states, it is only a small provision:
“It doesn’t look like a study to me. It looks like it’s just a first step in the process to making it happen. This is a gambling bill with a small provision for a study in it, so that’s why I will be against advancing the bill at this time.”
The panel may have voted 9-3 in favor of SB 1126, but the bill still has to go to the Senate Finance Committee to determine its fiscal impact. One of the main considerations will be the 10 percent casino tax rate set out in SB 1126.
Senator Scott Surovell spoke about the need for this bill to pass:
“MGM has been sucking hundreds of millions of dollars out of the state up in Maryland, right across the river from my house, for four or five years now. I’ve been saying for four years, since I’ve gotten to the Senate, supporting my colleague from Portsmouth, that we need to do something about it.”
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