When lawmakers return to Richmond, Virginia in February, the hot topic of debate is reportedly going to be casino gaming. The 2020 session begins next month and lawmakers will be reviewing several gaming issues including the legalization of online sports betting and betting machines in convenience stores.
Aside from sports betting and the convenience store games, the main focus will be casinos. Virginia is one of a small few in the US that does not allow any type of casino gaming. While they do not offer casinos, the state has been moving in a positive direction over the past few years.
Proponents of casino gaming want to see large scale resorts with games so that areas in need of an economic boost would have a viable option. With casinos, areas of the state would be able to create new jobs as well as see an increase in tax revenues.
Senator Louise Lucas continues to push for casino gaming and should be a strong supporter in the new session. While there are many proponents, there are also those who are opposed. Conservative groups continue to try and show casino gaming having a high social cost including an increase in addition as well as crime.
While there are those who are opposed, their push is slowing down and members of legislature who were opposed are not out of power. The Democrats gained the majority in the General Assembly back in November and this may help to see casino gaming legislation finally push forward.
Much to Decide
For the industry to take shape in Virginia, there is much to decide. Lawmakers would have to figure out how competitive the market should be as they look to approve the option. Certain groups are providing cash donations in order to push for decisions to be made. A coal industrialist named Jim McGlothlin would like to create a Hard Rock casino in the state while the Pamunkey Indian Tribe is also interested in building a gambling destination.
Last year, the state focused on casino gaming during the legislative session. Instead of passing legislation to approve casinos, lawmakers decided to research the subject. The goal was to determine how casinos would impact certain regions of the state. Cities under consideration include Norfolk, Bristol, Richmond, Portsmouth and Danville.
Research found by the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission revealed that resort type casinos in the above cities could have the potential to produce around $260 million a year in new revenues for the state via taxes. The industry would create a minimum of 5,000 employment positions.
The report showed that a casino in the northern region of the state would be able to compete with nearby MGM Resorts property in Maryland and bring in around $155 million in gaming taxes.
Horse Racing Worry
Another aspect for legislators to consider in the casino discussions is the horse racing industry. A part of the casino debate is that the horse racing industry will suffer if casinos are offered in the state. Colonial Downs is the only horse racing track in the state and they have been operating slot style machines for two years. Part of the money generated helps to fund horse race purses.
The fear is that casinos would take away slot machine gamers at the horse track which would cut down on the funds for purses. Representatives for Colonial Downs have stated they are not against casino legalization but do fear that a competitor in Richmond where the track is would hurt their bottom line.