Bill to allow electronic card games in Virginia bingo halls passes Senate committee

Volunteer fire departments, religious charities and other nonprofits may have a chance to bolster sagging bingo revenues, if a bill patroned by Sen. chap petersen (D-Fairfax) continues to gain support. Charitable gaming reform would bring electronic card games to nonprofits already licensed to conduct bingo and raffles.

“Bingo halls have been dying out.” Petersen said. “We are taking the regulatory framework for bingo, and allowing games to take place so that these charities can survive.”

Nonprofits that rely on bingo revenue to supplement their charitable giving are facing a crisis, says Chuck Lessin, Legislative Director for the Virginia Charitable Bingo Association: “Thirty years ago we generated $700 million in revenue, last year we generated about $265 million. Our business is essentially disintegrating as bingo becomes less popular.”

“This is money raised in a community– spent in the community. This is a local 501(c)3, not casino gambling.” Petersen said. “The highest [price per] hand would be $10, similar to the price of a lottery ticket you can buy at 7-11. The highest win would be $100.”

Electronic card games would be regulated by the Virginia Charitable Gaming Commission, which currently regulates bingo. There would be no extra cost to the state for adding electronic card games.

All profits from the electronic card games would go directly into the accounts of the local sponsoring charities.

The vote in the General Laws and Technology Committee was 10-5, sending the bill to the Senate floor.