Virginia Casino Bill Passes Committee
In Virginia, Senate Bill 1126, sponsored by state Senator L. Louis Lucas, passed out of the General Laws and Technology Committee in a 9-3-1 vote. The bill, which combines three measures into one, now moves to the Senate Finance Committee for review. The measure would authorize five cities to apply for casino gambling licenses, including Portsmouth, Bristol and Danville, as well as Norfolk and Richmond where casinos would be built by the Pamunkey Indian Tribe.
The cities must meet certain criteria regarding economic need, like high unemployment and poverty levels. Each city would be required to hold a voter referendum to approve a casino before one could operate. The measure also specifies only one license can be issued per city. No casino license could be issued until July 1, 2020, according to the legislation.
In addition, the bill would tax net casino earnings at 10 percent and direct half of the proceeds to host cities and half to the state. One percent of the state’s money would support problem gambling treatment, and half of the remainder would go toward public school construction with the other half put into the general fund.
Governor Ralph Northam has expressed concern that the gambling legislation is being rushed through the legislature. He recommended the state spend $175,000 to conduct an independent study on the economic impact of casinos. An amendment to SB 1126 included such a study, to be completed by November 1—only four days before Virginians vote for all 40 state Senators and 100 state Delegates.
The Pamunkey Tribe previously was pursuing a casino through the Department of the Interior’s federal rules but recently said it would be willing to open a casino under commercial gaming laws to speed up the process.
The Bristol casino would occupy the former Bristol Mall and be financed by United Company Chief Executive Officer Jim McGlothlin and Par Ventures owner Clyde Stacy. McGlothlin said the project will not require government funding and that the area needs a “big, bold” project to compete with neighboring states’ gambling options.
Lucas said casinos offer the most efficient path to economic development for Danville, Portsmouth and Bristol. “We just want to create economic development in these three parts of the state. It’s plain and simple,” she said. Lucas noted in seven years, gambling operations in the three communities could generate a total of nearly $100 million in local revenue and create about 16,000 jobs.