Virginia Lawmakers Take Steps to Legalize Casinos in the State

Wavy Flag for State of Virginia
On Tuesday, a senate committee advanced legislation that would allow voters across five key Virginia cities to hold local referendums to approve casinos. Voter approval will be key before the state can proceed forward with any more momentum to legalize casinos.

Those southern cities include Bristol, Danville, Richmond, Norfolk and Portsmouth. Currently, Virginia is one of the few states that disallow casinos of any kind in the state. However, the state has been moving toward casino legalization within the last few years, after decades of opposing it.

The Case for Legalization

The biggest sponsor for casino legislation in the state has been Democratic Senator Louise Lucas of Portsmouth. He’s adamantly advocated for the people of Virginia to be given the opportunity to determine their own destiny, calling the legalization of casinos a “no-brainer.”

“It’s been 25 years coming!” said Lucas during the first baby steps the Senate committee took last June in favor of getting this bill passed.

Those in favor of legalization argue that large-scale resorts that include casinos will boost the economy, creating new employment opportunities by the amount of jobs that will be generated as a result, as well effectively increasing tax revenues.

In a report recently released by the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission, it found that resort-style casinos located in Virginia’s aforementioned southern cities could generate around $260 million annually in new state gaming taxes, and create around 5,000 jobs.

The Case Against Legalization

Conservative groups aren’t optimistic over the benefits legalized casinos could provide to the state, arguing that it will instead create increased issues, such as high rates of people suffering from gambling addictions, along with higher crime rates.

These groups have also warned lawmakers that wealthy developers will be the ones who benefit from the news casinos, not the state’s poor.

It appears the conservative influence on the state has recently started to fizzle out, with the democratic win of the General Assembly majority back in November. It’s the first time democrats have won a majority in the state in over 20 years. The reason for the recent advancement in legislation can be seen as a direct result of GOP leaders losing their influencing power in keeping legislation at a standstill.

Keeping Casinos in the Southern Part of the State

The decision to focus on Virginia’s southern cities as possible casino locations has to do with lawmakers lack of enthusiasm that a casino could do as well in Northern Virginia. This has to do with the fact that MGM Resorts International $1.4 billion resort and casino recently opened in Maryland, a hop, skip, and a jump away from nearby Virginia.

Located across the Potomac River, just outside of Washington DC, MGM National Harbor has the current monopoly in the area. It boasts having a gaming floor “bigger than the White House,” over 300 luxury rooms, and a 3,000-seat theater.

What Comes Next?

Quiet negotiations are currently taking place with regards to legislation, discussing important key points such as the number of casinos the state will allow, and who will be appointed to run them. Jim McGlothlin, a wealthy coal industrialist who is planning to build a Hard Rock casino and resort in Bristol, and the Pamunkey Indian Tribe, who have their sights set on casinos in Richmond and Norfolk, are major contenders as far as potential casino owners go.

Martin Kent, CEO of The United Company, is also looking to have a casino in Bristol. He said this in regard to the legislation surrounding making that happen:

“Even in Virginia, there’s a lot of confusion about what happened last year. I think it’s best probably summed up this way: Any major issue that Virginia, its legislature, is looking to pass will oftentimes go through a re-enactment provision.”

Other key topics in Virginia’s legislature this year are the gambling issues that may arise with legalized casinos, as well as determining whether to legalize online sports betting and/or ban betting machines in convenience stores across the state.

Slot machines in Virginia’s convenience stores fell under a legally gray area in a state that’s been generally opposed to gambling. Since it was argued that a game that involves skill rather than chance is otherwise legal, it allowed for the implementation of slot machines to be overlooked during that time.