Virginia Poised For Historical Gambling ExpansionMay 11, 2018 7:24 am
Virginia is among the country’s more conservative states when it comes to gambling, and for many decades has resisted the allure and revenues that the industry might bring. In the 1990s, for instance, its legislature turned down a push for riverboat gambling, and the following decade Internet gambling cafes were outlawed.
For the past five years, a casino bill has also been tied up in a Senate committee, but big changes may be soon be in store for the historically conservative state, with an Indian tribe looking to open up a venue in Virginia, and a new horse race wagering system via slots-style machines having been signed into law in March.
Lost Revenues Across Borders
Helping to motivate the Old Dominion to consider breaking with tradition and embrace casino gambling is the large amounts of money its residents are currently spending at casinos based in nearby states, and as Governor Northam explains:
“There’s a tremendous amount of money in Virginia that’s going across state lines, whether it be in West Virginia or Maryland or Delaware. And I think we’ve got to be open-minded. Certainly we don’t want to do something that’s regressive to people or is hurtful to people. But if there are individuals who want to do that and are going to other states, I think we should be open-minded in Virginia.”
Providing one of the strongest pushes, however, is the MGM National Harbor which cost $1.4 billion to build and in December 2016 finally opened for business across the Potomac River in Maryland. According to estimates, around 40% of the integrated casino resort’s business derives from Virginia, which is a huge amount of money leaving the state considering it collects more than $50 million from gamblers each month from its 2,705 slots and 173 table games.
Pamunkey Indian Casino Plan
Following a 33-year battle to be legally recognized, the Pamunkey Indian Tribe finally succeeded in winning federal recognition in 2015. Soon after, the tribe then announced a partnership with Yarbrough Capital and its intention to build a $700 million casino resort, as is its right under federal law, with a 600 acre site currently being eyed in New Kent County. According to the Pamunkey council, the new casino project will pay its employees around $200 million each year, and have an indirect economic impact worth around $1 billion to the state.
The Pamunkey Indian Tribe’s drive to recognition, though, was a hard fought battle that in 2014 encountered fierce resistance from Stand Up for California, a nonprofit organization whose main focuses has been preventing the expansion of tribal gaming in the country. Interestingly, MGM was one of the key collaborator opposing the tribe’s recognition, with its intervention seen as a way of stopping any competition to its MGM National Harbor business, although its efforts ultimately faltered.
Horse Racing Revival
Gambling on horse racing was allowed in 1997, with Colonial Downs thoroughbred track opening later that year. In 2014, however, the Jacobs Entertainment of Colorado facility shut following disputes with Virginia’s horse breeding industry who demanded more races with larger purses. It seems that the Virginia Equine Alliance has now found a potential buyer for the track in the guise of ‘Revolutionary Racing’.
Furthermore, Gov. Northam signed House Bill 1609 into law in March, which allows historical horse racing machines to be installed at the venue allowing bets to be placed via slot type machines in order to speed up wagering. In addition, these machines allow bets to be placed even when no horse races are taking place, with punters able to place wagers on old races in which all identifying elements have been removed. According to estimates, a revitalizing horse racing industry could generate in excess of $41.6 million per annum for Virginia in the form of taxes, and commenting upon the exciting development, Jeanna Bouzek, VP for operations at Colonial Downs, stated:
“We’ve gone from no gambling to now we’re poised for this opening up, then a casino. I never thought I’d see it in my lifetime, to be honest.”