Virginia General Assembly approves casino legislation

Virginia General Assembly approves casino legislation

Compromise legislation that could ultimately bring casino gaming to Virginia — and Bristol, if approved by voters — passed the General Assembly Saturday night.

The approval is a win for the $250 million Bristol Resort and Casino project proposed for the Bristol Mall. It must still be signed by the governor.

Substitute Senate Bill 1126 authorizes casino gaming in Virginia to be regulated by the Virginia Lottery Board. The bill specifies the licensing requirements for casino gaming and imposes criminal and civil penalties for violations of the casino gaming law. Casino gaming would be limited to certain cities that meet the criteria outlined in the bill, and a referendum must be passed in the city on the question of allowing casino gaming in the city. The referendum must be adopted prior to Jan. 1, 2021.

The bill requires the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission to report no later than Nov. 1 regarding recommendations for casino gaming in the commonwealth. The bill includes a re-enactment clause for the referenda provisions of the bill.

The legislation, which is largely the same as bills carried by state Sen. Bill Carrico, R-Galax, and Sen. Louise Lucas, D-Portsmouth, would specifically allow the referenda to occur in Bristol, Danville and Portsmouth. It also would allow referenda in Richmond and Norfolk, two cities identified as potential sites for a casino owned and operated by the Pamunkey Indian Tribe.

The state can only issue one casino license per city, if approved by a local voter referendum.

The bill was approved 30-10 by the Senate and 64-33 by the House.

A release on Saturday from the Bristol Resort and Casino group states:

“We are pleased that the General Assembly has created a framework for moving forward with this project. We look forward to working with the Governor on this legislation. The resort and casino will provide a major economic boost to the city of Bristol, as well as the entire Southwest Virginia and Tri-Cities region. We appreciate the strong support of our entire legislative delegation, who all see the importance of bringing more jobs and additional tax revenue to the region. As we take the next steps to make this project a reality, we will continue working closely with our local and state elected leaders.”

The Senate bill and a House substitute were before the conference committee for 10 days before being finalized on Saturday.

The bill would impose a tax ranging from 13 to 15 percent of the adjusted gross receipts of licensees, based upon a licensee’s annual adjusted gross receipts, and provide for how the tax proceeds would be disbursed.

No referenda can occur unless the legislation is re-enacted by the 2020 session of the General Assembly. Further, no referenda may occur prior to the publication of the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission’s findings and recommendations regarding casino gaming pursuant to the second enactment of the act, and no referendum shall be held after Jan. 1, 2021, according to the bill.

The Virginia Lottery Board would be tasked with developing regulations to implement the provisions of the act beginning Jan. 1, 2020, and complete work on such regulations by June 30, 2020. In addition, the Virginia Lottery Board would not issue a license to operate a gaming operation before July 1, 2020.

It would require the Lottery Board to establish and implement a voluntary exclusion program allowing individuals to voluntarily list themselves as being barred from entering a casino gaming establishment or other facility under the jurisdiction of the board.

The bill would also establish the Problem Gambling Treatment and Support Fund administered by the Commissioner of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services to provide counseling and other support services for compulsive and problem gamblers, develop problem gambling treatment and prevention programs, and provide grants to support organizations that provide assistance to compulsive gamblers.