Two Virginia Lawmakers Launch 2019 Casino Legalization Effort

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Two Virginia lawmakers launched a fresh push for the legalization of casino gambling in the state yesterday when this year’s legislative session convened

Delegate Israel O’Quinn and Senator Bill Carrico will be leading this year’s effort for bringing casinos on the territory of Virginia. The two lawmakers filed yesterday companion bills in their respective houses, both calling for the legalization of casino gambling in Virginia and setting the rules under which casinos should be operated.

The two lawmakers hope that their effort will succeed after decades of failed attempts due to the state Legislature’s traditionally firm stance against any proposals for gambling expansion. Del. O’Quinn and Sen. Carrico also pointed out yesterday that their pieces, unlike others previously introduced, aimed to give the people of Virginia the power to decide whether casinos should operate within the state’s borders.

Under House Bill 2536 (and its companion piece in the Senate), local voters will have their say on whether casinos can be built within their cities’ limits via citywide referenda. If the bill gains the necessary support in the Legislature, it will pave the way for the proposed Bristol Resort and Casino, a $250-million project introduced last summer by a group of Bristol businessmen who want to build a gaming and entertainment resort at the site of the vacant Bristol Mall.

Among other things, HB 2536 contains provisions that specify where casinos can open doors. Under the piece of legislation, casino gaming will only be limited to cities where at least 40% of the assessed real estate value is exempt from local property taxes, cities that have unemployment rate at least 4% higher than the average for the state, and cities with a poverty rate of at least one-fifth of its population and a population decrease of at least 20% from a year earlier.

Bearing those requirements in mind, Bristol as well as Danville and Portsmouth will all be eligible to open casinos within their limits as long as their residents vote in favor of that. Officials for all three cities have passed resolutions to support the casino legalization push.

Taxation and Tax Revenue Distribution

The bill reads that any operational casino shall be taxed at 10% on its gaming revenue. Half of the tax revenue generated will be split among the Virginia Public School construction program, a newly established fund for problem gambling treatment and prevention, and the state’s general fund.

The other half would go to a specially created local casino gaming proceeds fund. Of that portion of the casino tax revenue, 25% would go to the host city and 75% would be split among localities that share the same transportation district.

The bill gives the Virginia Lottery the power to license interested casino operators, regulate the state’s industry, and penalize any violations of laws and regulations. It is also important to note that aside from casino operators, gaming equipment suppliers and casino management service providers will, too, have to obtain a license from the state’s regulator.

Under HB 2536, “baccarat, blackjack, twenty-one, poker, craps, dice, slot machines, sports betting, roulette wheels, Klondike tables, punchboards, faro layouts, keno layouts, numbers tickets, push cards, jar tickets, or pull tabs” will all be considered casino gaming.

Casino operators interested to run a casino in Virginia will have to pay a non-refundable $50,000 application fee. Repeated violations of the rules will be penalized with suspension or revocation of a license.

The legislative piece now needs to be referred to a committee where it will be reviewed and voted on. The Virginia General Assembly has traditionally been quite conservative on all matters gambling, so it is to be seen whether the addition of citywide referenda provision would make the big difference this time, as Del. O’Quinn hopes.

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