Virginia Sen. Louise Lucas (D-Portsmouth) is leading an effort to bring a casino to the Hampton Roads metropolitan area, specifically Portsmouth.
The gambling laws in Virginia are relatively restrictive and while it does allow horse racing and off-track betting at licensed facilities, charitable gambling, and a state-sponsored lottery; casinos and greyhound racing are specifically prohibited. Lucas, who has represented the 18th District since 1992, has been pushing to legalize casinos in her home state for so many years, she’s lost count of the number of times she’s introduced casino legislation. Her most recent proposal was shot down in committee late last month. She told WTKR, “I’m losing count on the number of years I’ve introduced casino bills but each year I get a little bit closer.”
A step in the right direction, the Virginia Senate did pass SB1400, also introduced by Lucas, which would classify poker as a game of skill and establish a regulatory framework for legal poker tournaments. The bill now moves to the Virginia House of Delegates.
Lucas isn’t alone in her concern over the state losing money, Governor Terry McAuliffe told the news agency that people should be concerned that money that should stay in Virginia is instead being spent in Maryland at the new MGM Grand National Harbor located just outside of Washington D.C. and at Maryland Live Casino in Norfolk. In addition to the previous two, Virginia Beach-based Fun Tours offer casino bus trips to Horseshoe Casino in Baltimore, Harrington Raceway & Casino and Dover Downs Casino in Delaware, Ocean Downs Casino in Maryland, and Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races in West Virginia. Each of which is another missed opportunity to keep Virginian’s money in Virginia.
Lucas said, “Right now we know MGM Grand in particular is drawing anywhere from $350 million, upward of $700 million (per year) in Virginia [dollars] and that’s not even to count what might be going to other states as well,” according to the news agency. A Hampton Roads Transportation Planning Organization study in 2013 estimated that a local casino would bring in between $200 and $600 million dollars annually and create approximately 2000 jobs. A similar conclusion was reached by Old Dominion University’s 2015 State of the Region, according to the report.
While the Governor may support casino legislation in the state, in October 2015 when Lucas proposed yet another legislative package for the city of Portsmouth, Mayor Kenny Wright said he thought the City Council needed “to consider removing” the bill, according to The Virginian-Pilot. Lucas reportedly said at the time that in order for Portsmouth to have a long-term, sustainable source of revenue, it needs a casino; funds from which, could be tied to education and transportation.