While several details await ironing out, a bill filed last month by Virginia House delegate Barry D. Knight (R-1) seeks to put sports betting and casino gambling on the state’s 2020 ballot.
Knight pre-filed House Bill 4 within the Virginia General Assembly on November 18, ensuring that the issue of gambling expansion will be at the forefront when next year’s legislative session commences on January 8.
If authorized by the General Assembly, the bill calls for residents of local municipalities to vote on their preference for casinos and/or sportsbooks next November:
“The Department shall not grant any initial license to operate a gaming operation until a referendum approving the question is held in each city in which such casino gambling operation is to be located.”
As a pre-filed bill, HB-4 is currently “shell” legislation which lacks exact details on an array of regulatory and taxation policies. As such, voters know little more than that the Virginia Lottery Board would be tasked with overseeing licensure and regulation of gambling enterprises.
Information about online / mobile wagering, in-person sportsbook account registration, gross revenue tax rates, benefactor(s) of said taxes, licensing fees, collegiate athletic betting, and league requested “integrity fees” remains unknown.
Current Bill Emerged from Governor’s Sports Betting Study
Knight’s pre-filed legislation is an attempt to get ahead of the curve next year, after Virginia lawmakers spent most of 2019 studying the ramifications of sports betting and casino gambling legalization.
Back in March, Governor Ralph Northam signed Senate Bill 1126 into law and paved the way for Virginia to officially embark on the path to gambling expansion. As one of only nine American states where casino gambling – offered either by commercial companies or Native American tribes – is explicitly prohibited, Virginia’s conservative culture has long made the Commonwealth a gambling-free zone.
But via his signature on SB-1126, Northam tasked the state’s Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC) with studying the implementation of regulated gambling in other states where the industry has proven to be successful. The JLARC report – assisted by analysis from the Colorado-based hospitality industry research firm Innovation Group – was delivered to Northam and members of the General Assembly in late November.
Per the report, land-based casinos ($262 million), online wagering ($84 million), and sports betting ($55 million) would combine to send over $400 million in annual tax revenue into Virginia government coffers.
Rush Street Gaming Already Making Casino Connections
Under the highly specific statutory language of HB-1126, only five cities in Virginia – Bristol, Danville, Portsmouth (commercial); Richmond and Norfolk (tribal) – would be eligible to construct casino / sportsbook complexes.
And while Knight’s 2020 bill is still under construction, the positive economic outlook provided by the JLARC report has already prompted civic leaders in Portsmouth to forge ahead with potential gambling expansion.
Per reporting from the Virginian-Pilot, the Portsmouth City Council voted 6-0 in favor of entering a deal in principle with the Illinois-based casino operator Rush Street Gaming. Should HB-4 attain passage by lawmakers, followed by voter approval in 2020, Portsmouth would sell a 50-acre parcel of land to Rush Street Gaming for the purposes of developing a casino and entertainment complex.
In a public statement, Rush Street Gaming chairman and co-founder Neil Bluhm celebrated his company’s potential union with Portsmouth:
“For us to feel successful, we’re going to have to make sure that the community is happy with what we end up doing. In every case, we’ve had really good results.
I promise you we will build something you’ll be proud of.
We couldn’t be more thrilled that you’ve selected us to develop a terrific entertainment district facility.”