Virginia House and Senate at Odds over Gambling Study

Both chambers of the Virginia General Assembly recently passed bills to research the legalization of sports betting and casinos. However, the two leaders in the state, both Republican, don’t agree on how to go about this venture.

Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment (R) from James City appeared before a House of Delegates community in February to negotiate the matter publicly with House Speaker Kirk Cox (R) of Colonial Heights. The two politicians debated about the final outcome of one of the most important issues of the 2019 session. After several gambling bills were discussed at length during the early part of the session, the Senate combined all casino proposals into one piece of legislation. The new law maintains the general framework of the previous laws, but doesn’t permit any casinos in the state until after Virginia completes a study and legislators vote on the gambling issue once again next year.

Gaming Study Commission Bill

The House passed a bill to create a Gaming Study Commission. The organization would stand along and be more neutral in nature, since it will not be an offshoot of the legislation supported by casino project backers in Bristol, Portsmouth, Danville, and Norfolk.

GamblingDuring the recent session, the House Rules Committee reached a 12-5 vote to change the Senate bill to the House’s version of the bill. This vote set the stage for negotiations later in the session in an attempt to bring reconciliation between the two opinions. If each chamber pushes for its own version of the bill, the contrasts between the two bills must be settled by a panel of lawmakers, also called the conference committee.

Cox opposes gambling and is the chair of the Rules Committee. Cox expressed to Norment that he was concerned that a study bill centered on allowing referendums only in certain cities would “prejudice” the study. Cox asserted, “This pretty much, to me, sort of makes you look at it from their standpoint.”

Norment, on the other hand, stated that he didn’t see any huge differences in opinion that couldn’t be remedied with a Senate bill amendment. He further stated, “I don’t think there’s any inherent bias in this bill.” However, Norment also shared that he was unsure whether the bills were similar enough to make sense of trading one for the other. Norment stated, “There’s a serious germaneness issue there. I say that not in a threatening tone. But thinking ahead.”

How the Bills Originated

Gambling BillThe Senate’s version of the gambling bill came from proposals for commercial casinos in Bristol, Portsmouth, and Danville. These are three areas in the state that are struggling economically, and members of Virginia’s government are looking for ways to improve the financial state of these cities. The casino can bring more visitors to these areas, but can also provide jobs or the residents of these cities. These are two of the main reasons that people in support of state-sanctioned gambling are hoping that a legalization bill will pass.

The Pamunkey Indian Tribe is also planning to build a riverfront casino in Virginia. The casino will be in Norfolk. The tribe gave their input to the Senate as well, stating that it would be open to operating under commercial laws. The tribe is willing to do this instead of waiting for the federal approval necessary for a tribal casino, which could take years. Norfolk is the first choice for Pamunkey Indian Tribe in terms of casino location. However, according to the Senate bill, Richmond is the second consideration.

No casinos will be permitted to open in the five Virginia cities unless a local voter referendum is passed. Under the Senate bill, the referendums can’t occur until after the study has been completed and the General Assembly addresses the gambling issue again in 2020.

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A Massachusetts native, blogger Angeline Everett grew up in the Allston neighborhood of Boston and earned a degree in casino management from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. After graduating, Angeline moved to Atlantic City where she joined the young team at the Borgata Casino as a compliance representative, while blogging on the side. After a few years in the back office, Angeline moved to the floor to work first at a casual poker dealer and later casual poker floor supervisor. Fascinated with games of chance since she was a child, Angeline currently divides her time between blogging and work on her first book.