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Virginia Lawmakers Discussing Casino, Sports Betting Bills

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Virginia lawmakers are engaging in discussions about the potential expansion of casinos across the state, with significant developments in Richmond, Petersburg and Northern Virginia. The Senate General Laws and Technology Committee made key decisions on several gambling bills this week, offering early insights into the legislative direction.

Richmond, VA, Gaming Loses Allies

A notable decision emerged as a bill, passing unanimously with a 15-0 vote, seeks to permanently exclude Richmond from the list of eligible cities for hosting casinos. This decision follows the rejection of casino referendums by voters in 2021 and 2023, prompting a shift of focus towards Petersburg.

Efforts to relocate a proposed central Virginia casino to Petersburg gained traction. This was after the committee approved legislation to include the economically challenged city on the list of approved casino locations.

In Northern Virginia, the prospect of a casino in Tysons Corner, Fairfax County, took a step forward as a bill to initiate the process cleared its initial hurdle in the Senate. Senator Dave Marsden highlighted the pandemic-induced shift to remote work, resulting in decreased economic vibrancy in Northern Virginia. Despite concerns about local support, the bill passed the General Laws committee with a 10-5-1 vote, signaling potential challenges in the legislative process.

Additionally, the committee granted initial approval to a bill allowing cruise ship casinos to operate off Virginia's coast. This move aligns with expectations of increased cruise ship activity in and out of Norfolk.

Sports Betting, Skills Games Also Up for Discussion

The landscape of sports betting in Virginia is also evolving, with the committee approving a bill to permit betting on college games involving Virginia schools. The 2020 legalization of sports betting excluded wagers on Virginia college sports teams, aiming to protect student-athletes. The proposed bill seeks to address this limitation while maintaining restrictions on prop bets related to individual player performance.

However, clarity on skill games, slot-like machines present in gas stations and restaurants, remains elusive. While the machines are currently banned, there is a push to regulate and tax them. The committee briefly discussed an electronic gaming bill proposing regulations for machines competing with skill games, including a higher tax rate and measures to address concerns related to minors and gambling addiction.

Despite industry preferences for an alternative bill, sponsored by Senator Aaron Rouse, the committee agreed to delay action on the bill introduced by Senator Jeremy McPike for a week, following private discussions between the two senators. The deliberations underscore the complexities involved in shaping Virginia's gambling landscape, balancing economic interests with regulatory considerations.

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