Virginia lawmakers on Sunday gave final approvals to a pair of bills legalizing casinos and sports betting after a last-minute fight over whether the state should allow bets on college games involving Virginia teams.
In the end, lawmakers chose to exclude Virginia colleges and universities from the new sports betting market, bowing to concerns raised by higher education leaders who said they wanted to shield student athletics from gambling’s influence.
Together, the two bills represent a major expansion of gambling after decades of resistance in the legislature. But the promise of additional tax revenue and keeping gambling dollars in Virginia secured bipartisan support for the bills, which passed over opposition from some Republicans who said they were concerned about the social impacts on families and low-income communities.
The sports betting legislation could have the most immediate impact for the state.
If Gov. Ralph Northam signs the bills, sports betting could be available through mobile apps and websites by the end of the year. Casinos would take a little longer, requiring voter referendums in five cities – Bristol, Danville, Portsmouth, Norfolk and Richmond – the General Assembly chose as possible casino sites. Those referendums could happen as early as November.
A coalition of gambling interests and local leaders lobbied the legislature to pass the casino bill, pitched as an economic lifeline for the five targeted cities.
“It’s going to create jobs,” said Del. Barry Knight, R-Virginia Beach. “So these people can lift themselves up.”
The Virginia Mercury is a nonpartisan, nonprofit news organization covering Virginia government and policy.