Virginia General Assembly passes legislation allowing commercial casino gaming

Posted at 1:48 PM, Mar 08, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-09 17:09:52-04

The Virginia General Assembly passed legislation allowing commercial casino gaming in Virginia.

The legislation, which still requires Gov. Ralph Northam's signature to become law, follows two years of deliberation on whether to legalize casinos in the state. Voters in the cities will also have to approve casinos during a referendum this November.

It allows for casinos in five cities including Norfolk, Portsmouth, Richmond, Danville, and Bristol. "This is for economically depressed cities," said Del. Barry Knight (R-Virginia Beach).

The bill required careful compromise. The Colonial Downs Group was worried about the potential impact to horse racing. The bill allows them to add historical horse racing machines at Rosie locations. "The final outcome helps to protect the 300 million dollar investment we have made in the Commonwealth and the more than 1,000 employees we have hired," Colonial Downs Group said in a statement.

It also sets the tax rate to 18-30-percent depending on how much money a casino generates. That's important for Hampton Roads because a state study said a higher tax rate would make things tougher on Norfolk and Portsmouth both having casinos.

The bill now is being reviewed by Gov. Northam. "His philosophy has always been that Virginia needs to be thoughtful in its approach — if we are going to expand gaming, we must do so responsibly," his spokesperson said about whether he plans to sign the legislation into law.

A statement by the Pamunkey Tribe, which plans to build a resort and casino in Norfolk and another in Richmond, read:

“The Pamunkey Tribe is eager to move forward with its plans to build a world-class resort and casino in Norfolk and ready to respond to Richmond’s Request for Proposals to bring a casino to the River City. After centuries of disenfranchisement and social injustices, the Pamunkey Tribe is on the verge of ensuring the long-term success of the Tribe. Its plans to build two resorts with casinos will allow the Tribe to provide needed programs and services to its members. It will be a great partner for Norfolk and Richmond. The Tribe will keep profits in Virginia through reinvestment locally and will provide tremendous benefits to these regions of the Commonwealth for decades to come.”

The City of Norfolk signed a development agreement with the tribe in January 2020. At that time, Norfolk Councilwoman Andria McClellan said "it would be required to have a referendum city-wide in November and at that point the voters can have their say whether or not the city should have a casino."

This is a developing story.