Charitable Games Become Part Of Regulated Landscape In Virginia

Written By Derek Helling on March 29, 2023
virginia gambling charitable poker rules changes

The time of the “Wild West” for charitable gaming in Virginia is over. The state’s Dept. of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS) has now joined the list of agencies regulating Virginia gambling, making electronic bingo and Texas hold’em games played to benefit charities in the state part of the regulated gambling industry.

Among other things, that means the state will have oversight of how much of the money played goes to charities. If the department can adequately enforce that facet of the business, it could mean charities get a much bigger piece of the pie.

Charitable gaming’s place in the Virginia gambling scene

Bingo and poker games for charity have been happening in Virginia for over a decade. For most of that time, the state has taken a laissez-faire approach to them. Unless someone made waves with some egregiously illegal behavior, the state assumed all was good.

That all changed in 2019 when the Virginia Assembly enacted a sweeping gambling expansion law. You might know it best for its legalization of sports betting in Virginia and the allowance of local referendums on brick-and-mortar casinos.

However, that same law also grandfathered charitable gaming under state oversight. Since then, VDACS has been working on drafting rules for charitable gaming enterprises. That process is over.

The regulations are now in effect in the state. As a result, VDACS staff will begin inspections of organizations that offer games like bingo and poker to benefit charities. Those include dedicated bingo halls and fraternal organizations.

Those operations might need to adjust to the new rules. Among the elements that VDACS will be tracking is how much of players’ money ends up in charities’ coffers.

VDACS looks to up the ante for charities

For the first time in the state’s history, there will be a sort of minimum hold for charitable games. The rules require organizations offering the games to open their books to regulators. Among other things, the regulators will be watching to see if the payouts to charities meet that minimum.

For electronic bingo or pull-tab games, that minimum comes to 20% of adjusted revenue. The rules allow the organizations to make adjustments for the cuts that game providers take. Few if any of the organizations own the devices and other gaming equipment. Instead, they lease them from third parties.

In terms of similar requirements for Texas Hold’em games, David Ress of the Richmond Times-Dispatch reports those rules are still forthcoming. VDACS would probably like to see the situation improve for charities in that regard as well, though.

According to Ress, less than 2% of the $16.5 million that was played in charitable games in 2020 was paid to the designated charities. The host organizations and game equipment providers divided over 98% of the money left over after paying out winnings that year.

Ress also states that VDACS originally sought a 40% minimum on bingo and pull-tab games. However, the department cut that in half upon receiving feedback from the parties involved.

The rules also establish procedures for necessary licensure and reviews of all aspects of charitable gaming in Virginia. Like the new sheriff entering a town in a western film, VDACS is riding in to establish legal standards.

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Derek Helling

Derek Helling is the assistant managing editor of PlayUSA. Helling focuses on breaking news, including legislation and litigation in the gaming industry. He enjoys reading hundreds of pages of a gambling bill or lawsuit for his audience. Helling completed his journalism degree at the University of Iowa.

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