While the state’s executive branch continues its descent into chaos and scandal, Virginia’s state Senate forged ahead by passing an ambitious Virginia gambling expansion bill.
In a 28-12 vote held on Monday, lawmakers in the Commonwealth authorized Senate Bill 1126, which would call for local voter referenda on the issue of legalizing casino games and sports betting.
Those referendum can’t be held until 2020 at the earliest, however, as a provision of SB-1126 requires reenactment by that year’s General Assembly.
The bill also calls on the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission to conduct a study of how other states successfully regulate and operate their respective gambling industries. The Commission would then report its findings and recommendations to the chairmen of the Senate Committee on General Laws and Technology and the House Committee on General Laws on or before November 1 of this year.
But before any of that can happen, SB-1126 must be passed by the Virginia House of Delegates, which held its first reading of the Virginia gambling legislation today. From there, the House Committee on Rules will take the bill up for further discussion and review.
Virginia is currently one of only 10 states in the country without a single casino – commercially operated or owned by federally recognized Native American tribes – potentially making the state a prime candidate to capitalize on the ongoing sports betting “gold rush.”
Since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a federal sports betting ban (outside of Nevada) in May of last year, seven states now offer legal wagering – including neighboring West Virginia and nearby New Jersey, Delaware, and Pennsylvania.
With regional competition increasing, state house delegate Mark D. Sickles (D-Fairfax) made sports betting his primary focus when he submitted one of seven gambling-related bills introduced this session.
In an interview with the Washington Post, Sickles pointed to a struggling state economy as the main motivation for regulating an already lucrative market:
“I think it’s time to bring illegal sports gambling that’s going on into the light, have it regulated and have it benefit Virginia’s economy.”
Southwestern Virginia businessmen Jim McGlothlin and Clyde Stacy agree. Since last year, the pair of local leaders have spearheaded an effort to fund construction of a $250 million casino resort in the city of Bristol
In a public statement issued after the Senate vote, Bristol Resort and Casino LLC praised lawmakers for taking the first step toward realizing their shared dream:
“We are pleased that the Senate showed strong, bi-partisan support today in passing SB 1126.
This important legislation provides a roadmap for how Virginia can provide a significant economic development boost to those regions of the Commonwealth in desperate need of more jobs and additional revenue.
As this bill continues through the legislative process, we will work with the House and Senate to make these projects a reality.”
Speaking to the Bristol Herald Courier, Bristol city manager Randy Eads warned that SB-1126 could be subject to a series of changes regarding tax rates and regulatory red tape:
“There is still a lot of time left in the session for there to be additional changes with this version of the bill.
I will continue to communicate with legislators and monitor it as things move through the House.”
One of the key legislators Eads must negotiate with is House Speaker Kirk Cox (R-Colonial Heights) – which doesn’t bode well for the Virginia gambling bill’s future.
In a statement made to the Richmond Times-Dispatch last year, Cox came out strongly against casino gambling:
“I do not believe opening the commonwealth to casino gambling is in the state’s long-term best interests.
I will continue to strongly oppose casino gambling and will encourage my colleagues to oppose it as well.”
Cox currently leads the House of Delegates, but as the third in the line of succession, he could very well become Virginia’s next Governor with the state in the midst of a widening racism scandal.
Democratic Governor Mark Northam is under fire and facing calls to resign from within his own party due to a blackface scandal involving a photograph in his college yearbook. Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax has been accused of sexual assault, while Attorney General Mark Herring admitted to wearing blackface as a student.