A Senate subcommittee passed SB 36 casino bill this Tuesday, helping push the legalization of gaming activities in the state of Virginia. This bill may open the door of opportunity for commercial gaming resorts in five cities.
Moving forward with legislation
SB 36 was approved by the Senate General Laws and Technology Subcommittee on Gaming. The bill was introduced by Democratic Senator and Senate President Pro Tempore Louise Lucas in November 2019. Lucas has supported legalized gambling in the state for long. Earlier this week, she asked for an opportunity to let them determine their own destiny. The subcommittee has now referred the legislation back to the full Committee on General Laws and Technology.
The new legislation continues on the world of the 2019 Virginia casino law- SB 1126, which was signed and passed by Republican Gov. Ralph Northam. That bill didn’t do much for the state, except calling for a formal study related to the impact of casinos on the five qualifying cities. Several casino proposals have been forwarded for these cities, but voters will have to approve these projects before they get a gaming license from the state. The ballot referendum would need a simple majority only.
Virginia’s unique gaming status
Virginia is one of the few states in the US that doesn’t already have any tribal or commercial casinos. Commercial gambling in the state only became relevant last year when it was seen as an opportunity to help areas experiencing stagnant economic growth. Cities qualifying for these criteria should have an unemployment rate of at least 5% as of 2018. They should also have a poverty rate of at least 20% in 2017. These cities must have also suffered from a population decrease of at least 20% between 1990 and 2016.
Five cities have qualified the criteria- Norfolk, Portsmouth, Danville, Bristol, and Richmond.
Lawmakers in Virginia are relatively less experienced in creating gaming regulations. This is why they are taking small but cautious steps like setting up a Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission. The Commission will review regulatory measures adopted by states where commercial casinos are running. The lawmakers need to decide regulatory conditions for casino governance before they could bring the issue for a referendum.
Current legislations favor a 27% tax on gross gaming revenue (GGR) and give Virginia Lottery the powers to regulate casinos. The state aims to spend 1% of the taxes on handling problem gambling, 10% to the host city and save 89% for the state general fund.