Virginia may be the next state to legalize casinos, and five cities will likely have facilities soon. A State Senate committee advanced legislation on February 4 which would allow voters in Richmond, Norfolk, Bristol, Portsmouth, and Danville to hold a referendum on whether they wish to approve casinos in their cities. A similar bill is expected to advance in the Virginia House as well.
Virginia is one of just a small number of states that actually forbids casinos from operating. However, there has been a number of moves in recent years toward legalizing them.
The first occurred in 2018 when the Colonial Downs horseracing track in New Kent County was purchased and set to reopen in 2019. The Chicago-based group that purchased the track, Revolutionary Racing, planned to bring back racing to the state’s only track.
This sale likely occurred because the General Assembly had voted to allow gambling at the Colonial Downs track and approved off-track betting sites throughout the state. This created the possibility of casinos at locations across Virginia.
Advocates for the casinos quickly realized what a major economic boon this could be to these areas. Large-scale resorts and casinos would create new jobs and boost tax revenues, not only for the state but for the regions themselves.
“Just give us an opportunity to determine our own destiny,” said Democratic Sen. Louise Lucas of Portsmouth, the chief sponsor of the legislation and the General Assembly’s most outspoken supporter of casino legalization.
Not everyone is on board, however. Conservative groups have warned members of the legislature that these casinos will provide great revenue to wealthy developers while hurting poor people within the state. Explained Todd Gathje, a lobbyist for the Family Foundation, “These are the people the gaming industry targets.”
For now, lawmakers seem disinterested in allowing for a casino in the more densely populated northern part of the state. MGM Resorts International opened a $1.4 billion resort-casino in Maryland, just across the river from Virginia, and this seems to have deterred legislators.
As of now, lawmakers are working to draft legislation that will determine the total number of casinos that will be allowed. Jim McGlothlin wishes to build a Hard Rock casino and resort in Bristol while the Pamunkey Indian Tribe is looking to build casinos in Richmond and Norfolk.