Getting to this point was not easy. Every step of the way, the bill passed by the narrowest of margins.
It met a better fate than other casino-related bills, which were all struck down in committee.
Skill game bill gets through committee by 8-7 vote
The poker bill, known as SB1400, was one of several put forth by state Sen. Louise Lucas. The poker bill aims to achieve a couple of things:
- Legally establish poker as a game of skill (and fully legal)
- Allow for qualified organizations to partner with charities to host fundraising poker tournaments in Virginia
- Limit prize pools of these tournaments to $50,000
- Put the matter of regulation on the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and the Charitable Gaming Board
The Committee on General Laws and Technology passed the bill with an amendment by an 8-7 vote.
VA poker bill survives Senate after tie-breaking vote from lt. governor
The close call in committee was not the only one the bill would have.
A mere four days after getting out of committee, the bill was subject to a full vote from the state Senate. Two senators abstained, and the rest were deadlocked 19-19.
With a couple of exceptions, the vote was largely Democrats in favor and largely Republicans against. Senate President Lt. Governor Ralph Northam, a Democrat, broke the tie with a vote in favor.
The bill’s next stop is the state House of Delegates. The 100-person group is largely Republican. The bill is expected to face a much tougher battle there.
Other Virginia casino bills die in committee
Sen. Lucas came to Jan. 23’s committee meeting with a full arsenal of casino-related legislation. The poker bill was the only one to survive.
She introduced multiple bills to bring casinos to Virginia. Lucas pointed out the opening of MGM National Harbor in nearby Maryland was taking Virginia dollars across the Potomac River (in December, Maryland casinos posted their best revenue month to date).
“Many of us are also looking to try to bring some of those funds back to Virginia,” Lucas said during the meeting.
National Harbor is quickly becoming the top-performing casino in Maryland since opening in December of 2016. Some numbers suggest up to 50 percent of the casinos revenues are coming from Virginia residents.
Lucas lobbied to get a casino in her home of Porstmouth, Virginia. She described her district as “fiscally stressed.”
The committee voted down her casino measures by a vote of 8-7. The vote was completely down party lines.
Republican Sen. William DeSteph was the lone Republican to vote yea on the poker bill, flipping the majority in favor for the single measure.