Bill on Expanding Casinos, Sports Betting In Va. Likely To Be Kicked To 2020

The following piece appeared on January 30th and was written by Graham Moomaw.

Proponents of casinos and sports betting may have to wait at least another year before Virginia lawmakers open the door to more gambling.

On Wednesday, a state Senate committee changed a major casino bill to require a state study and another vote in 2020 before any casino licenses would be granted. In its new form, the bill would prevent Bristol, Portsmouth and Danville from holding voter referendums on casinos until after the study is completed in the fall.

“I can’t understand on an issue of this paramount importance why we would not want to make an informed and deliberate decision,” said Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment, R-James City.

The Senate Finance committee advanced the bill Wednesday on a 12-4 vote, dimming casino backers’ hopes as the legislative session nears its halfway point. The bill would order the state’s Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission to conduct a comprehensive gambling study with a Nov. 1 deadline. “’It gives us kind of a time-out to take a breath and make sure this is going to work right,” said Sen. Emmett Hanger, R-Augusta.

The General Assembly is juggling several proposed casino projects from both commercial gambling interests and the Pamunkey Indian Tribe, which is pursuing a riverfront casino project in Norfolk. State lawmakers also filed several different bills to legalize and regulate sports betting.

Casino supporters has urged speed, arguing Virginia would run the risk of losing gambling dollars to other states if policymakers delay their projects. But Gov. Ralph Northam has made it clear he favors putting the bills on pause to allow for a study.

“There’s lots of discussion on financial regulation, the regulatory structure, how we’re going to do this, the social concerns and the unintended consequences,” Secretary of Finance Aubrey Layne told the Senate committee Wednesday.

The House of Delegates has not yet taken up the casino legislation. House Speaker Kirk Cox, R-Colonial Heights, opposes the bills to expand gambling.

The deadline for both chambers to act on legislation is next Tuesday.