A study said Virginia shouldn’t award casino licenses without competition. Do lawmakers agree?

A study said Virginia shouldn’t award casino licenses without competition. Do lawmakers agree?
A rendering of the Pamunkey Indian Tribe's proposed casino resort in South Richmond. (Courtesy Pamunkey Indian Tribe) (Source: Pamunkey Indian Tribe)

The big gambling report Virginia lawmakers asked for to help them figure out how to start a casino industry didn’t say exactly what the General Assembly should do.

But its recommendations were pretty clear on one point: No one should get a free pass at a lucrative casino license with no competition.

“A competitive licensing process introduces market competition into an environment where casinos will ultimately operate as monopoly-like businesses,” the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Committee said in its report issued late last year.

Unlike most states, the report noted, Virginia’s 2019 casino bill that sparked the gambling study didn’t include a competitive process for picking the best casino projects. As lawmakers take up the casino issue again this session, it’s not clear it ever will.

As written, some bills under consideration continue to tailor the casino legalization process to specific projects proposed for five chosen cities: Bristol, Portsmouth, Danville, Norfolk and Richmond.

Del. Barry Knight, R-Virginia Beach, the sponsor of one such bill, said he wants to empower localities to pick which casino projects work for them without throwing the door wide open to competition through a state-run bidding process.

“You’ll get Malaysia and Dubai and all these people coming here, putting a ton of money in here. Then the state will say ‘Oh this is the best deal for your locality. And you’ll have no say-so,” Knight said.

Lawmakers have yet to take up the casino issue in the current session, and the ins and outs of the licensing process will only have to be worked out if the legislature chooses to legalize casinos. If that happens, local voters would have to give their approval before any casino could come to their city.

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