Earlier this week, Republican Delegate Barry Knight filed HB 4 in the Virginia House of Delegates, a move that could prompt politicians there to take up the matter of sports betting in 2020.
As is the case in some other states, Virginia defines sports wagering as part of casino gaming, tying the fate of the former to expansion of the latter in the commonwealth. Virginia has long prohibited traditional gaming venues, but there is some momentum there for revisiting that policy.
Knight’s HB 4 was officially prefiled in advance of the 2020 legislative session. The bill is companion legislation to Senate Bill 1126. The Senate effort, proposed earlier this year, allows Virginia policymakers to examine other states’ gambling regulations and evaluate the economic and social impacts of expanding gaming in the Commonwealth.
Those proposals add specific casino gaming language to Virginia Code, meaning the bills would have to be approved by residents in cities and towns where the state is considering adding gaming options. If the bills are passed in the upcoming legislation session, voters in Virginia communities that want expanded wagering would be able to consider the matter on the November 2020 ballot.
The Virginia Lottery Board would grant licenses to a casino gaming project that involves a minimum capital investment of $200 million, which may include investments in land facilities, infrastructure, equipment, or furnishings,” according to HB 4.
Earlier this year, Virginia passed a law allowing for casinos in Bristol, Danville, Norfolk, Portsmouth, and Richmond. Prior to that, it was one of just 10 states with no commercial or tribal gaming venues.
Not all of the cities in the Old Dominion state that are eligible for gaming properties are swooning over the idea. Earlier this year, lawmakers in Norfolk signed off on a $700 million tribal gaming project. But at least one member of the city council is adamantly against the idea and has spearheaded the “Say No to the Norfolk Casino,” a petition drive opposing the gaming property.
The Pamunkey Indian Tribe, the group behind the Norfolk casino effort, believes the venue will generate $825 million in annual revenue, with promises of at least $33 million in receipts for the city.
The plan in Norfolk calls for a venue with 3,500 to 4,500 gaming machines and as many as 225 table games. One city official said previously just 750 slots and 25 table games would deliver annual revenue of $5 million for the city.
However, critics are concerned that Norfolk isn’t close enough to Washington, D.C. to lure gamblers from the nation’s capital, making a casino there dependent on locals and intrastate tourists.
Virginia Sports Betting Landscape
Overall details about the sports betting in Knight’s HB 4 are scant. But with neighboring North Carolina, Tennessee, Washington, D.C. and West Virginia all having signed off on it, the Commonwealth may act to keep sports wagering dollars at home.
A 2018 Oxford Economics study estimates the annual sports betting handle in Virginia would be $5.2 billion, resulting in revenue of $380 million and tax receipts of $60 million, assuming a rate of 15 percent.
Kentucky and Maryland are the only states that border Virginia that have yet to approve sports wagering.