After extending the legislative session into the weekend, Virginia lawmakers in both chambers of the General Assembly passed two bills which would expand the Commonwealth’s gambling industry.

House Bill 896 seeks to regulate sports betting in Virginia by allowing up to 12 licensed operators to offer online / mobile wagering.

And under House Bill 4, five economically struggling cities in the state would be permitted to build full-scale casino resorts. Along with bringing legal casino gambling to Virginia for the first time, HB-4 also allows the five planned casinos to set up onsite brick and mortar sportsbooks.

ralph northam virginia governor

Virginia Governor, Ralph Northam.

Despite a lengthy process of debate and amendment, both bills eventually secured bipartisan support during a collaborative last-minute effort between the state Senate and House of Delegates. Accordingly, as revealed by the Washington Examiner, Governor Ralph Northam is widely expected to sign both bills into law.  

If and when Northam’s signature makes things official, Virginia will join several regional neighbors in legalizing the sports betting industry. West Virginia became the fourth state to join Nevada in offering regulated sportsbooks in August of 2018, while Tennessee and North Carolina both have laws on the books which are awaiting implementation.

Fellow neighbor Kentucky also has a promising sports betting bill backed by gubernatorial support under consideration, but progress on the legislation has ground to a halt in recent weeks.

Virginia Sports Betting Bill Includes Controversial Provisions 

virginia cavaliers college basketball players

Players from the Virginia Cavaliers.  

Virginia Lawmakers from the House of Delegates first approved HB-896 in early February, and the Senate  followed suit two weeks later. That same day, however, the House unanimously rejected the Senate’s version to begin the conference committee process needed to reach a consensus.

During the conference committee, lawmakers haggled over the tax rate imposed on sportsbook operators. They eventually compromised by dropping it from 17.5 percent to 15 percent, but that wasn’t enough to prevent the full House from voting 56 to 40 against the latest version on Saturday. At that point, tax rate debate had been replaced by divisions over whether or not wagering on Virginia’s local college athletics should be allowed.

One day later – with a majority of lawmakers agreeing to a full ban on local college betting – HB-896 was passed 59 to 35 in the House and 29-10 in the Senate. Along with the prohibition on Virginia college teams, the bill as passed would also ban prop betting on all college sports.

The bill’s Senate sponsor Jeremy McPike (D-29) begrudgingly accepted the bans, as he told colleagues during the contentious conference committee:

“A few things were in dispute in regards to college betting, and specifically allowing betting on colleges.

The Committee report (now) does not allow betting on Virginia teams, and there will be no prop bets on college athletes, on any individual college athletes. They cannot be bet on anywhere.

We want to make sure no college athletes are bet on anywhere. Some Virginia athletes go elsewhere, mistakenly, but we should protect them.”

Up to Five Full-Scale Casinos Could be Coming to the Commonwealth 

Under HB-4, five cities in Virginia coping with struggling economies – Bristol, Danville, Portsmouth, Norfolk, and Richmond – would be eligible to build the state’s first casinos of any kind.

Virginia is currently one of only nine states with no commercial or tribally operated casinos to speak of, but that could change if HB-4 is signed into law. From there, voters in each municipality would then be asked to approve casino gambling via ballot referendum.

In comments made to local news outlets, state delegate Barry Knight (R-81) said the new casinos would serve as safety nets to help prop up local economies:

“It’s going to create jobs. So these people can lift themselves up.”

“It’s going to create jobs. So these people can lift themselves up.”

The Pamunkey Indian Tribe, which plans to build a pair of casino resorts thanks to HB-4, issued the following statement shortly after the bill secured final passage:

“The Pamunkey Tribe is eager to move forward with its plans to build a world-class resort and casino in Norfolk and ready to respond to Richmond’s Request for Proposals to bring a casino to the River City.

After centuries of disenfranchisement and social injustices, the Pamunkey Tribe is on the verge of ensuring the long-term success of the Tribe. Its plans to build two resorts with casinos will allow the Tribe to provide needed programs and services to its members.

It will be a great partner for Norfolk and Richmond.”

Jonathan Zaun

One of Gamble Online's first dedicated reporters, Jonathan has spent well over a decade reporting on the gaming industry. While breaking legal news is his main area of expertise, Jonathan is an avid blackjack player & strategist who follows professional poker closely.

Back To Top
Back To Top