Virginia likely to legalize gambling

If you like gambling and you live in Virginia, then you’re a bit unlucky, to say the least. Virginia is one of the most restrictive states in the US when it comes to citizens having a flutter. This is in a country which, in general, doesn’t have the most tolerant attitude when it comes to gambling, especially online gambling. It’s only recently that lawmakers have come around to the idea of sports betting.

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The good news is the lawmakers in the Old Dominion state, too, are beginning to think that gaming in Virginia might not be such a bad thing after all. A bill was passed earlier this year that is likely to bring casinos, sports betting and online gambling to the state. The governor of the state, Ralph Northam, signed the bill in March.

What’s in the bill?

Unfortunately, a city can’t just build a casino when it feels like it. The Virginia Lottery Board has the power to issue a single license per city, and it won’t just hand them out. There are a few conditions the city has to meet first:

  • At least 40% of the land area must not be subject to local real property taxation (0r 24% if a local Indian tribe is conducting the gaming).
  • The unemployment rate has to have been a minimum of 5% in 2017 (or 4% if situated adjacent to a state that has implemented a Border Region Retail Tourism Development Act; the poverty rate must have been 20% or more in 2016; and a the city must have experienced a population decrease of 4% or more from 1990 to 2016.
  • The city has a larger population than 200,000, according to 2017 estimates.

Importantly, the local casino must support the casino. The city must hold a referendum before January 1, 2021, and the casino must pass the referendum.

Likely but not certain

The fact is that the Virginia Lottery Board, under the bill, has all the power and can decide what types of betting the state will permit, which means online gambling isn’t past the finish line just yet. Although the law allows the possibility of online gambling and sports betting, how the state would address tax issues and market access, and implement responsible gaming policies, are still decisions to make.

They may wish to look into brick-and-mortar casinos first before venturing into the online domain, since the law has detailed provisions on these, and take it from there. Online gaming could come later or not at all.

Would it be popular?

Developments in the US, in general, suggest there is an appetite for sports betting, and this may have led the powers that be in Virginia to reconsider their own attitude towards gambling in the state. According to the American Gaming Association, the nation wages approximately $150 billion on sports illegally each year.

Last year, the Supreme Court dealt a crushing blow to the anti-sports betting crowd, amongst which were the NFL, the NBA, the NHL and Major League Baseball, who had argued that it could hurt the integrity of the game (s). The state of New Jersey argued that Congress had exceeded their authority when it passed a law banning sports betting. New Jersey won, and they’d been fighting long and hard for such a ruling.

It seems that citizens in Virginia would welcome any kind of casino or sports betting, whether online or offline. Last year, findings from a poll with 841 participants discovered 63% of registered voters were in favor of legalizing sports betting. 64% were in favor of the Pamunkey Tribe opening a casino — and 58% said that if tribal casinos were allowed, other types should be allowed as well. Virginia is especially short of poker rooms, so cards players would likely welcome somewhere where they can put their bluffing and cards skills to the test.

A little extra in everyone’s pockets

It’s not all just about being citizens able to do something that law had forbidden them previously. There’s a strong financial incentive to do so as well. The casinos would bring in a substantial amount of revenue for the state — as much as $600 million — and do so without introducing new taxes or raising taxes. Extra taxation is never popular with voters or legislators.

In fact, rather than introducing new taxes to bring in some extra dollars for state coffers, the potential legalization of casinos has triggered discussions of tax cuts. This could be in the shape of tax cuts for everyone. The other option is to expand tax credits for people on low or moderate incomes in Virginia. It’s noted that people in Republican districts seemed to be more in favor of tax cuts for all the citizens. That said, both options would be popular. In a choice between tax cuts or expanded tax credits, 49% voted for the tax cut and 46% for the extra tax credit.

Boosting the public mood

All the talk of casinos and potential tax breaks could well have lifted the public mood in Virginia. Only 35% stated a belief that America was moving in the right direction, which is a marked contrast to how they feel about the direction Virginia was taking: 64% were optimistic and believed the state was going about things the right way. That’s a record.

The job approval ratings for Ralph Northam, who is a Democrat, reflect this positive outlook. He received a 59% job approval. He’s even had the backing of 30% of Republicans since he stepped into his shoes as Governor of Virginia in January 2018. He may, however, run into conflict with them following his decision to call a special legislative session on gun control. The session is scheduled to take place in July and follows a mass shooting which occurred in Virginia Beach and saw 13 people lose their lives, including the gunman himself.

Happier times could well be ahead for anyone in Virginia who likes a flutter and wants more choices to gamble than just playing the lottery. It appears casinos will have locals on their side, whether it’s because citizens might not have to pay so much in taxes as a result or simply because it would no longer be the lottery or nothing. The Virginia Lottery Board still has the final say, but things are looking hopeful. It’s a space to watch.



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