Virginia Governor Makes Last Minute Amendments to Bills Legalizing Casinos and Sports Books

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Virginia legislative process regarding the expansion of state-wide gambling has one hurdle left to overcome before passing into law, Governor’s recommendations for changes in the text of the bills. And if state lawmakers do not agree to the proposed text amendments and return the bills back to the governor to sign, he will most probably veto them and bring the process back to the drawing board.

The legislature in Virginia passed SB36 and H896, March 18, and two days after that, both bills arrived at St. Gov. Ralph Northam’s desk to sign them into laws. But it did not happen, as instead, the governor had some details to add before agreeing to put his signature.

Public School Construction

Regarding the bill legalizing state casinos, SB36, the governor’s key text amendment has to do with funneling a portion of the new casino tax revenue for public school construction. As for HB896, the governor proposes to allow betting on college sports, one of the hot discussion topics in legislature, but only if the events do not include state teams. In addition, there are proposed changes to licensing fees, changing them from a flat, non-refundable fee, to a $50,000 per principal within every organization, including anyone in managerial capacity.

SB36 authorizes the Virginia Lottery Board to issue 5 casino licenses, one each in the cities situated along the southern state line, Norfolk, Bristol, Danville, Portsmouth and Richmond. Before each of the casinos is allowed, there needs to be an approval from a local public vote that is scheduled for November 2020 general elections. Moreover, each city can designate “preferred casino gaming operator” before the state regulator certifies them and places them into the November vote.

Requirements for every candidate to build and operate a casino include a $300 million minimum capital investment, with the price of the real property where the casino will be located included in this amount. Casino operators need to hold at least 20% equity in the casino, and pay a licensing fee of $15 million for an initial period of 10 years that will allow them to offer slot machines, table games and on-premises casino gaming.

Fees Changes

Sports betting operations are also included into the casino license but only for a retail sports book, as online and mobile betting is covered under the texts of HB896, along the lines of which land-based venue operators are entitled to preferential treatment regarding the process of obtaining one from the 12 available online  and mobile operator licenses. If this controversial text is followed by the Virginia Lottery Board, it implies the number of available online operation licenses remains only 7.

Online sports betting application requires a $250,000 application fee, plus a $200,000 renewal fee for every three years. For settling in-play bets, operators need to have official league data, while for end-of-game wagers settlement, any data source is allowed. Gaming revenue will be taxed 15% on the net receipts.

HB896 requires the licensing body to give preferential consideration to professional sports teams that are headquartered within the state or play five or more season games per year at a facility in the commonwealth. Any license issued to a professional sports team will not count towards the 12 authorized for the state.

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