A signature on SB 1126 by Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam has paved the way for expanded gambling that includes land-based casinos, sports betting and online poker.
However, several requirements must be met before Virginians can legally bet on the Virginia Cavaliers, battle against the house in blackjack or roulette, or draw to a possible flush versus opponents on the poker table. Three caveats remain before any wagering can take place: a study of gambling laws in other states; another vote by the General Assembly; and approval by Virginia citizens must all come back positive.
There is a timetable set for each of those requirements, ensuring that regulated gambling – if approved – won’t be in play in Virginia until 2021 at the earliest. If that sounds like a long time to wait, keep in mind that there are currently no legal casinos in the state. Virginians have only the lottery and historic horse racing to wager on.
And while Virginia ranks among the states with the least amount of gambling offerings available at the moment, the legislation signed by Gov. Northam has the potential to completely turn that around and make Virginia among the most gambling-friendly states.
What it Will Take
The first order of business is for the Joint Legislative and Review Commission to research regulations in place in other states that pertain to casino gambling. A report on the findings of the study is due on December 1, 2019 and will be presented to the General Assembly.
The General Assembly will peruse the gathered information and will vote again – sometime in 2020 – on whether or not to go forward with gambling expansion. A November 2019 election means that there may be considerable turnover within the General Assembly, but indications are that more seats will be occupied by Democrats, which bodes well for supporters of casinos, sports betting, and online poker and gambling.
Assuming the report is positive and Virginia lawmakers give gambling expansion a greenlight, the next step is to allow voters to have their say by way of a referendum. That would most likely take place at the November 2020 elections.
Virginians in the cities where casinos are being proposed – Portsmouth, Danville, Bristol, Norfolk and Richmond – will likely approve as support for SB 1126 has already been demonstrated in those cities and the bill was worded specifically for them in requiring a population of at least 200,000.
Tribes Get Two Casinos
The details regarding constructing new casinos would begin taking shape in 2021, with the Pamunkey Tribe slotted for the Richmond and Norfolk locations. It would likely take another couple of years before any slot machines are ringing or cards are dealt.
With regard to online gambling, SB 1126 is a bit thin on details. It’s assumed that the handful of land-based casinos would be licensed to operate the regulated poker and gambling sites. However, amendments to the legislation that provide greater clarity may be in order.
While there are a number of obstacles in the way of new casinos and online poker coming to Virginia, the odds are good that it will happen. It’s likely several years down the road, but better late than never.