The Washington Post

Yes, Virginia, there is a casino proposal

File image from the Maryland Live Casino Dealer School. (Bonnie Jo Mount/The Washington Post)

Last month, I wrote a front-page story about the ever-shrinking list of casino-free states. The story focused on Virginia, since even the most ardent proponents of casino gambling in the Old Dominion think it doesn’t stand a chance.

“Forty-nine states will have it before we get it,” said Richard L. Saslaw, the Virginia Senate’s Democratic leader, who has supported casino proposals in the past.

Realizing that Utah would likely hold out longer, the senator from Fairfax County quickly adjusted his prediction, saying:  “Maybe 48.”

Still, that hasn’t stopped one of Saslaw’s colleagues from continuing to push the issue.

Sen. L. Louise Lucas  (D-Portsmouth), who previously submitted a series of unsuccessful bills to bring a casino to the Hampton Roads area, filed another gambling bill last week for the 2014 General Assembly session.

Senate Bill 19 — which you can read in its entirety here — would create the Virginia Casino Gaming Commission and establish casino-licensing guidelines in the commonwealth. It would also establish a distribution plan for gambling taxes, 90 percent of which would be used to offset new regional road tolls.

“The genesis of the bill was to mitigate the tolls. That was the intent,” Lucas told WAVY-TV, the NBC affiliate in Hampton Roads.

A recent study by the Hampton Roads Transportation Planning Organization said a casino resort in the area could generate $113 million in annual tax revenue and create at least 1,900 jobs.

According to the Virginian-Pilot, the Portsmouth City Council will meet Tuesday “to discuss the prospect of having a casino in Portsmouth — and get feedback from the public.” According to the paper, at least five of the seven council members support legalizing casino gambling in Portsmouth, though the city’s mayor, Kenny Wright, opposes it.

“I’m deeply concerned about it,” Wright said, according to the Virginian-Pilot.

The bill has been referred to a committee for the upcoming General Assembly session.

Whether or not it has support in Portsmouth is almost irrelevant. Such legislation has been a nonstarter at the state level for years, even as  surrounding states have embraced casino gambling as a source of additional revenue. Lobbyists and legislators say gambling legislation can’t and won’t pass in the House of Delegates, where Republicans have a supermajority and no interest in allowing casinos into the state.

“I think overall it has negative human impact that outweighs any potential economic impact,” House Speaker William J. Howell (R-Stafford) said in my November story. “I don’t think it’s the right thing for the commonwealth.”

As RTD columnist Paul Woody wrote in June: “Given the opposition by Virginia’s House of Delegates to slot machines, a horse facing 1,000-to-1 odds at Colonial Downs has a better chance of winning than slot machines have a chance of being approved in Virginia.”

Incidentally, two consultants hired by Maryland to come up with revenue projections for a soon-to-be-announced Prince George’s County casino said recently that the facility would pull in more than half of its customers and cash from Virginia. The proposed MGM National Harbor project, for instance, would generate more than $350 million in gambling revenue from Virginians in fiscal 2019.

J. Freedom du Lac is the editor of The Post's general assignment news desk. He was previously a Local enterprise reporter and, before that, the paper’s pop music critic.



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