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Virginia Representative files bill to enact 2019 casino legislation


Virginia Representative Barry Knight has pre-filed a bill ahead of the 2020 legislative session that would allow allow the state to enact the provisions of a casino bill passed in 2019.

The text of House Bill 4 is identical to SB1126, which was signed into law by Virginia Governor Ralph Northam in March this year. Rather than immediately clearing the path to constructing casinos, that bill instead required a Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission to carry out a study of regulatory best practice and the potential impact of gambling on Virginia communities.

This report is due to be submitted to the Senate Committee on General Laws and Technology, and House Committee on General Laws, on December 1. Once this has been completed, the Virginia Lottery Board has between January 1 and June 30, 2020 to develop regulations for the vertical.

After this, SB1126 said, the matter of casino gambling must be revisited in the following legislative session, which is what Knight’s bill seeks to do. The final decision on whether to allow casinos will then be put to the public in a referendum, which could be added to the November 2020 ballot should HB4 pass into law.

As with SB1126, HB4 looks to allow cities in Virginia to permit the construction of casinos, provided they meet a series of criteria. The definition of casino gaming is particularly broad, including sports betting and online gaming under the products that each casino would be permitted to offer.

Casino gaming would only be allowed in cities that meet one of four sets of conditions. First are cities in which 40% of all real estate is exempt from local property taxation and experienced a population decline of at least 7% between 1990 and 2016.

Cities which had an unemployment rate of at least 5% in 2018, a poverty rate of at least 20% in 2017, and a population decline of 20% between 1990 and 2016 would also be eligible.

Those that had an unemployment rate of at least 3.6% in 2018, a poverty rate of 20% and population decline of at least 4% also fit the bill

Finally, cities with a population of more than 200,000, at least 24% of real estate exempt from local property taxation and without any casino gaming conducted by Native American tribes would also be allowed to permit casino gambling.

Only projects that involve a minimum capital investment of $200m, which may include investments in land, facilities, infrastructure, equipment or furnishings, will be considered.