Virginians would be able to place legal bets on professional and college sports under legislation both chambers of the General Assembly adopted on Monday.
The Senate voted 27-12 to approve Senate Bill 384, proposed by Sen. Jeremy McPike, D-Prince William. He said it would bring sports betting out of the shadows for regulation by the Virginia Lottery and allow the state to benefit from new tax revenue on the activity.
McPike said the bill allows Virginia to get the jump on Washington, D.C., and other states in regulating sports betting after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled almost two years ago that states could legalize betting on sports.
“It provides the framework. It provides the transparency. It provides the taxation,” McPike said.
The House of Delegates voted 69-29 to approve House Bill 896, proposed by Del. Mark Sickles, D-Fairfax, to legalize sports betting on professional and collegiate games, except those involving Virginia colleges and universities.
Sickles’ bill also would allow the lottery to sell its tickets for its games online. So would Senate Bill 922, proposed by Senate Minority Leader Tommy Norment, R-James City, which the Senate approved by a vote of 33-6.
“This brings the Virginia Lottery into the 21st Century,” Norment said.
Those weren’t the only bills the assembly adopted on Monday that would transform gaming opportunities in Virginia this year.
The Senate gave preliminary approval to a ban on electronic “skill games” in restaurants, stores and truck stops across Virginia where they have proliferated without regulation or taxation. The so-called “gray machines” have operated in a murky realm between legal games of skill and illegal games of chance under current state law.
Senate Bill 971, proposed by Senate Finance and Appropriations Chairwoman Janet Howell, D-Fairfax, would ban them entirely. Gov. Ralph Northam and legislative leaders are concerned by the effect of the games on lottery sales and profits for public education.
“It’s taking money from the lottery, which of course is taking money from public education,” Howell said.
Sen. Bill Stanley, R-Franklin County, tried Monday to tax the skill games as a way to pay for new school roofs.
Stanley’s Senate Bill 4 would create the Public School Assistance Fund and Program, which would give grants to local school districts to repair or replace roofs, where many school facility issues start.
The fund would need money to pay for the roofs, leading Stanley to introduce a substitute version of his bill that would allow for the skill games to be taxed at a 25% rate.
The money from the taxes would then go into the fund.
“These are already here,” Stanley said. “We might as well take the revenue.”
A majority of the Senate disagreed. In a 24-15, bipartisan vote, the body adopted a different version of Stanley’s bill, making his substitute out of order.
“We have pretty much made a policy decision that we are not going to do gray machines this year,” Howell said. “We’re not ready yet for these machines. We haven’t finished negotiating. We don’t have the regulatory structure. At this point, I think the proper [way forward] is a total ban.”
The House gave preliminary approval to a bill that would legalize casino gambling in Virginia cities, including Richmond. The Senate is considering similar legislation, and both bills are scheduled for final votes on Tuesday.
The House amended House Bill 4 on Monday at the request of Del. Jeff Bourne, D-Richmond, to allow Richmond more freedom to choose the operator and developer of a casino resort in the city. The city would have to give preferential consideration only to the Pamunkey Indian Tribe under the revised legislation, just as Norfolk would for an agreement it has negotiated with the tribe to develop and operate a casino resort next to the Elizabeth River.
The Pamunkeys have the option of operating casinos in their ancestral territory under federal gaming rights, but are pursuing a commercial state casino license in both cities under the legislation. The tribe has proposed a $350 million casino resort in South Richmond near Commerce Road.
Bourne’s amendment removes a requirement that Richmond also give preferential consideration to Colonial Downs Group, which operates a Rosie’s Gaming Emporium on Midlothian Turnpike in South Richmond.