Virginia pushes forward with expanded gambling legislation
Hopes of expanding Virginia’s gambling activity have not waned because of the coronavirus. There have been legislative efforts in the works to offer casinos in strategic cities around the state and the process continues to move forward. A bill designed to tackle expanded gambling made it to Governor Ralph Northam’s desk, and he’s ready to pull the trigger. However, before he does, he wants state lawmakers to sign off on some changes he has prepared. If they don’t, finding approval for the bill might get even messier than it already is.
Two-thirds of the casino tax revenue would go toward building new schools in the state. As the language is currently written in the draft legislation, the tax revenue is only destined to the state’s General Fund. However, Northam expects the bill’s casino tax language to reflect that the funding goes to “school construction, renovation, and repairs. The language is going to be relatively broad, given the revenue from the casinos won’t start coming in for at least a couple years, probably more,” according to an official in his administration, Carter Hutchinson.
Through both versions of the bill, five casinos would be allowed to be built in the state, one each in Bristol, Danville, Norfolk, Portsmouth and Richmond. These cities were chosen as being more economically-challenged, but residents will ultimately be involved in the approval process for the new gambling properties. All five locations have suffered greater unemployment and poverty rates than other cities in Virginia, and the casinos are expected to provide much-needed revenue to give them greater stability.
Next up, the lawmakers will consider the governor’s changes and determine how to proceed. They’re expected to get together on April 22 to debate the merits of his suggestions and, if they agree, the final bill will become law. On the other hand, if they were to reject his changes, the bill would go back to his desk, where he is almost certainly going to veto it.
Should it proceed, residents will vote on a casino measure on the ballot this November. Only a simple majority is needed for the bill to be passed, but there is still going to be a long road ahead. First on the list of priorities is recovering from the economic devastation caused by COVID-19. With nationwide unemployment rates higher than anything witnessed in recent history, disposable income for gambling is almost non-existent. However, by the time any casinos are constructed and operational, things will have hopefully returned to normal.