Virginia has long tried to turn its back on the gambling industry, but progress can seldom be stopped – especially when serious amounts of money are involved. The idea of casinos within the state’s borders have been brought up in the past, but have routinely been smothered by objections. There is now a light at the end of the tunnel for the gaming industry, looking to expand into Virginia, as a committee in the state’s Senate has approved a bill that could open the doors to casinos. However, it is still a long road ahead and that light at the end of the tunnel is nothing more than a faint flickering.
The bill was sponsored in part by Senator Louise Lucas. It would allow referendums to be held in cities such as Norfolk, Danville, Bristol, Richmond and Portsmouth in order for these to consider allowing casinos. The Senate Committee on General Laws and Technology, which is part of the General Assembly, passed the bill by a vote of 9-3-1 this past Monday. From here, the bill goes before the Senate Finance Committee for further review and to consider its financial and regulatory implications.
While the bill may be on the right path, there are several roadblocks ahead. Virginia’s governor, Ralph Northam, has expressed his opinion, as have several state legislators, that he would be opposed to putting his signature to any gambling bill in order to provide more time to conduct comprehensive studies. He would like to see at least one of these studies to begin this year.
The state’s Finance Secretary, Aubrey Layne, recognizes the importance of the bill and said that the administration is prepared to watch its progress. But, she added that the legislation is more complicated. She said, “I’m not saying the governor will be for it or against it — but it’s not a study. It’s a big decision. The General Assembly ought to understand we have significant issues to deal with.”
Even if the bill is approved, any casino measure would still have to go before a public vote. If the voters say yes, the casinos would have to be issued a license by the Virginia Lottery board, which wouldn’t happen until July 1, 2020 at the earliest.
If state lawmakers prohibit casino legislation, Virginia still might have an option. The Pamunkey Indian Tribe has stated that it hopes to receive federal approval to launch a casino project in the state and has chosen Norfolk and Richmond as the potential sites. Pamunkey Tribal Chief Robert Gray told WAVY TV 10, “Right now we see it is a win-win for both us and Norfolk. It’s a fantastic location, with the river and the city and transportation right there. We see a benefit in Norfolk greatly and obviously a benefit to our tribe.”