Virginia Casinos and Legal Gambling

Updates on Virginia's gambling referendum, where to play online and legal gambling news
Virginia Sports Betting Launch Dates

As shocking as it may seem to observers inside and outside Old Dominion, the Commonwealth of Virginia is moving quickly to become a full-service gambling state. Sports betting launched in the state in January 2021, and actual casinos are in the early stages of their construction processes.

This development became possible after a flurry of legislative activity in March and April 2020. However, as you’ll see, the appetites of both the public and lawmakers were whetted from the success of historical horse racing, which appeared in Virginia in 2019.

As Virginia moves into a different paradigm with gambling, we will be watching. Check back here for information, updates and, in time, bonus offers in the Commonwealth.

Take a look below to see where things stand in Old Dominion and, more importantly, where they are going.

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Latest Virginia casino updates

Last updated: March 25, 2021

Richmond city officials narrowed are down to three casino resort proposals after eliminating eliminating Wind Creek Hospitality, a gaming company owned by the Poarch Band of Creek Indians, Golden Nugget and the Pamunkey Indian Tribe in late March.

Voters must approve the casino in a November referendum.

The proposals still viable, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch, are:
  • A $517 million project by Urban One, which owns the parent company of Colonial Downs racetrack. If approved, it would be the only majority black-owned casino in the country.
  • A $600 million casino resort pitched by Maryland-based gambling outfit, The Cordish Companies. Former Virginia Tech and NFL star Bruce Smith is an investor.
  • A $650 million project by Bally’s Corp. Investors include former NFL players Willie Lanier and Darrell Green.

Potential casinos coming to Virginia

There are plans for as many as five retail casinos to open their doors in Virginia soon. HB4 legalized casino gambling in the state for five cities that have met certain criteria. The criteria for selection are:

  • The poverty rate in the city is 20% or higher.
  • Unemployment is 4% higher or more than the state’s overall rate.
  • The population in the city has decreased by 20% or more in the past year.
  • More than 40% of city real estate is tax-exempt.

Clearly, the introduction of a casino venue is meant to spearhead the revitalization of the cities that qualify. The influx of tourism dollars and jobs could help to turn around the lives of citizens who could use a win.

Below is a rundown of where everything stands in each city with regard to its development and partnership plans.

Bristol casino

Bristol’s development team has been working on a plan to open a casino in town since 2018. Out of the cities receiving a casino, Bristol is the farthest along in its preparations.

One of the biggest coups for the Bristol casino team was the securing of Hard Rock International as a strategic partner. The rock-and-roll restaurant and casino brand shook hands with the city, which is located on the border with Tennessee, in late 2019.

At present, the plans call for the redevelopment of the Bristol Mall as the Hard Rock Bristol. Hard Rock is pledging to spend $400 million to build the facility, which will include a casino, sportsbook, hotel, convention center and retail/dining locations.

So far, Hard Rock has not listed an expected date for the new facility to launch.  Now that the referendum has passed, casino officials will still have to wait until April 2021 to apply for a casino license. It’s unlikely that any renovations will occur before then.

However, given that other Virginia casinos will likely begin to launch in 2023 and Hard Rock will be anxious to tap into Bristol’s geographic appeal (near so many non-gambling states), a similar timeframe would not be terribly surprising.

Danville casino

Like Bristol, Danville is a border town in Virginia that figures to capitalize on out-of-state traffic. The city, which sits across from North Carolina, would seem to be a perfect place to attract both Virginians and North Carolinians who don’t want to make the drive to the Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort in western North Carolina.

City planners are obviously shooting for the big time. There’s no other reason for the town’s partnership with Caesars Entertainment, which was finalized in June 2020. Approval from the Virginia Lottery followed soon afterward, and the Danville City Council has also lent its seal of approval to the deal.

The council has also released some early concepts for the property’s design. The current plan calls for a redevelopment of the Dan Mills industrial complex in the Schoolfield neighborhood, which would give Caesars 85 acres to use.

The new facility is expected to house more than 1,000 slot machines, 75 table games, a 16-table poker room, and a sportsbook. It will also be a full-service resort with a performance venue, convention center, restaurants, and retail shops.

With the passage of the vote, the casino could begin applying for an operator license in April 2021. Caesars officials estimate that Caesars Danville would open in 2023 under the current timeframe.

Norfolk casino

Norfolk is an obvious choice for one of the five Virginia casinos. The coastal city is the second-largest in Virginia and is no more than twenty minutes away from the largest (Virginia Beach) and third-largest (Chesapeake) cities in the state.

Norfolk planners are already moving forward with their plans for a casino on the Elizabeth River near Harbor Park. The 13.4-acre site comes as the result of Norfolk’s partnership with the Pamunkey Indian Tribe, the only federally recognized tribe in Virginia to have a shot at opening a casino.

Even though the tribe is new to casino management, it is not short on ambition. The plan for the Pamunkey Casino Resort Norfolk calls for the inclusion of roughly 4,000 slot machines and more than 100 table games. Plans even call for a 500-room hotel onsite.

Of course, one of the drivers for such an ambitious plan may be the immediate competition across the Elizabeth River. Norfolk is located minutes away from Portsmouth, another potential casino destination, so planners know they can ill-afford to be overly conservative with their vision. The Pamunkey have pledged to spend $700 million on the construction of the casino.

Like most of Virginia’s casinos, it seems reasonable to assume that this venue will open sometime in 2023.

Portsmouth casino

Portsmouth is, as you may imagine, an aptly named town. It is split by the western branch of the Elizabeth River, is adjacent to the split between the Elizabeth’s southern and eastern branches, and sits across from the mouth of Chesapeake Bay.

City officials have closed a deal to partner with Rush Street Gaming in order to make the Portsmouth Casino Resort a reality.

Development plans are not as far along as they are in other towns, including Norfolk. So far, the main bit of information we know is the eventual location of the facility — a 50-acre parcel of land at the intersection of Victory and Cavalier Boulevards, near I-264.

The location is telling, however, when you think about Portsmouth’s immediate competition in Norfolk. Positioning itself on a major artery leading to the other casino could capture some traffic that decides it’s not worth an extra few minutes in the car.

Because so few details about the project are available, it is hard to know exactly how things will be different. However, Rush Street Gaming is not a fly-by-night operator and is certain to make the Rivers Portsmouth (or whatever the name ends up being) a fine location.

Because the approval process won’t begin until April 2021 and because Norfolk’s casino seems likely to open in 2023, a similar timeframe for Portsmouth is a pretty good bet.

Richmond casino

Richmond is both the fourth-largest city in Virginia and its capital, so its inclusion as one of the five potential casino locations is not difficult to understand.

However, Richmond is separating itself from the other four towns in terms of its timeline for bringing casino gambling to Virginia. While the other four cities placed the referendum on the 2020 ballot (and got their way), Richmond elected to delay the city’s voter decision until 2021.

Naturally, there remain a great deal of regulatory and logistical hurdles to overcome. Our best guess is that you might see the Richmond casino open its doors in 2024.

Is online gambling legal in Virginia?

Yes, but only sports betting. There is no law on the books to permit or regulate online casino gambling in the commonwealth of Virginia.

Although this statement seems to provide a gray area in the law, the reality is that Virginia’s existing statutes have not looked favorably on any type of gambling, online or otherwise. Its law on what constitutes illegal gambling is quite broad. It would only take a zealous law enforcement official’s interpretation to put Virginians who choose to navigate this limbo in a sticky situation.

Do not be fooled by sites that claim to be legal in Virginia. At best, they are playing fast and loose with the truth about the legal situation for online casinos.

However, there is some good news. Virginians are able to play and bet on any number of sweepstakes sites that serve the inhabitants of the commonwealth.

Sweepstakes sites

There are several sweepstakes sites that can mostly replicate the experience of playing in a real online casino. These sites are able to operate legally by conducting business in a specific manner.

Popular sweepstakes sites that will accept players from Virginia include:

Three of these sites — Chumba, LuckyLand, and Global — are owned by the same company. However, all four of them function in the same way.

In order to qualify as a sweepstakes site, operators must abide by specific rules. The most important rule governing sweepstakes giveaways of all kinds is that they must be free to enter. Additionally, they must pay out their advertised prizes.

The sites partially accomplish their compliance with the rules through the use of a dual-currency system. For Chumba, LuckyLand and Global, the two currencies are the play-money Gold Coins and the redeemable Sweeps Coins. Funzpoints uses Funzpoints and Premium Funzpoints, respectively.

It is not, in fact, possible to purchase Sweeps Coins or Premium Funzpoints, so you are receiving the “prize” for free. For these sites to comply with sweepstakes law, it is possible to write to the companies and receive free redeemable currency. Most people don’t want to take the time to do this, though, so they pay for the play currency — which comes with free redeemable currency — for what is, essentially, a convenience fee.

Once you’re set up with some free money, however, there is not much to separate sites like Chumba, LuckyLand and Funzpoints from actual casino sites. There are slot games, table games and other options that you can play exactly the same way you would on an actual casino site.

What gambling is available in Virginia right now?

For many years, finding a way to gamble in Virginia was a bleak proposition. As recently as 2014, gambling locations and opportunities were shutting down, leaving only the state lottery as the option for Virginians who wanted to take a chance.

Thankfully, things are looking up again. The advent of historical horse racing in 2019 has given way to the return of live racing in the commonwealth. Now that sports betting is underway, gambling should become a significant fixture in Virginia.

In addition to sports betting, the following methods of gambling are available in Virginia:

Historical horse racing

The biggest addition to the Virginia gambling landscape in recent years has been historical horse racing. There are thousands of HHR machines located at Virginia’s lone racetrack, Colonial Downs, and four off-track locations in Hampton, New Kent, Richmond and Vinton. All four off-track facilities operate under the Rosie’s Gaming brand.

HHR machines use the results from horse races long past as the source of their material for betting. Players wager on the outcomes without knowing the identity of the races they’re betting.

Then, you have the option of either watching a graphical representation of the actual race or the results of the race translated into a slot machine-type output.

The machines have proven to be wildly successful for Virginia. The Virginia Racing Commission, which oversees the machines, reported handle topping $1.2 billion in 2019, six times higher than any previous year’s performance. HHR accounted for more than $1 billion of that figure.

Live racing

Colonial Downs likely figured that it should strike while the iron was hot. The new wave of patrons coming to the park for HHR meant that the racetrack could attempt to restart live racing, too. So live horse racing and the associated pari-mutuel betting returned to Virginia in 2019 after five years of dormancy.

Colonial Downs expanded its plans in 2020 to 18 races, three more than it conducted in 2019. However, the COVID-19 pandemic forced the track to cancel several of its dates toward the end of the season, including the Virginia Derby. The 2020 season was a difficult time for the racetrack, which had already canceled other dates earlier in the year due to extreme heat and tropical rain.

Nevertheless, live racing has returned in earnest to Virginia. Presumably, the HHR machines will help bring people to the track, and many of them will wander over to watch the present-day races, too.

Online horse betting

Even though live racing is just returning to Virginia, there’s no reason that you cannot place a horse bet through your mobile device or computer. Virginia is one of several states that allows players to use horse betting sites like TVG to wager on horse racing around the country.

Of those three sites, we strongly recommend that you use TVG. TVG is one of the most experienced horse racing sites on the planet, and has every possible option for betting that you could imagine.

TVG is not just a horse betting site, however. It is also a full-service broadcast network dedicated to horse racing. You can get insight and tips around the clock through the knowledgeable commentators who occupy the TVG desks. Though Fox Sports has recently tried to horn in on TVG’s status as the only horse betting network for Americans, TVG remains the premier spot to find information on the ponies in the US.

Daily fantasy sports

Whether daily fantasy sports is truly gambling remains a question in some quarters. Whatever it is, however, Virginians have more freedom than most states to engage in it.

Virginia was the first state in the US to legalize DFS outright. Inhabitants of the commonwealth have been able to do business with operators like DraftKings and FanDuel since 2016.

In a way, the boldness of lawmakers to make DFS a fixture in Virginia may have been a portent of the expansions to come in 2018-20. Once Virginians proved that they could wager without causing massive indebtedness and social disorder, it may have emboldened lawmakers to explore other options.

We’ll never know for sure, but what is certain is that you can play DFS without any hesitation in Virginia.

Lottery

Lastly, Virginia has an active and extensive state lottery. It is possible to play draw games, scratchers and instant win games.

Draw games include both state and interstate opportunities. You can play for smaller jackpots or shoot for bigger drawings like Mega Millions, Powerball and Cash4Life.

The Virginia Lottery has taken a halfway stab at online lottery sales. It is possible to set up an account and purchase a subscription to play a series of draw games online.

However, the utility stops short of self-contained instant win games or scratchers like you can play in other states. It’s not truly an online lottery in Virginia, but it’s close.

History of gambling in Virginia

If you had to describe Virginia’s past forays into gambling with a single word, that word would likely be “timid.” Virginia, like most states in the cultural South (except Mississippi), has an uneasy relationship with games of chance and has only inched its way into the pool one toe at a time.

The first bit of legal gambling to debut in Old Dominion was charitable gambling, which appeared on the scene in 1973. Bingo halls and charity poker became acceptable and quite popular, with annual tax revenues from charitable gambling stretching into the hundreds of millions of dollars.

The second form of gambling to find legality in Virginia was a common choice for states that would like to offer mild doses to their populaces. The state lottery debuted in the commonwealth in 1988. Subsequently, it grew into an institution in the state, with 5,000 retail locations and more than half a billion dollars generated in funding for Virginia schools each year.

Horse racing came to Virginia the year after the lottery’s launch. However, despite its status as a $100 million industry, horse tracks have struggled to stay open in the state. Between 2014 and 2019, the only live racing in Virginia came from the modest harness racing at Shenandoah Downs.

However, Virginia lawmakers introduced the practice of historical horse racing to the state in 2018. As a result, Virginians gained the ability to play on slot machine-like devices and wager on the outcomes of random horse races from the past.

The result has been a boon for the Virginia horse racing industry. In its first year of operation, HHR generated more than $1 billion in wagers for authorized locations in the state.

Actually, the legalization of HHR seemed to be part of a larger trend in the Virginia General Assembly in which lawmakers grew decidedly more favorable to legalizing gambling. In 2016, Virginia became the very first state in the country to recognize daily fantasy sports play formally as a legal game for its citizens.

So, although the idea of Virginia becoming a full-fledged gambling location seems a bit odd, the truth of the matter is that it’s part of a consistent shift in attitudes. The launch of online sports betting in the state and the affirmative votes on the casino referendums give a clear picture about where Virginians truly stand on the issue.

The bottom line is that gamblers in Virginia should feel quite optimistic. The days of Virginia dangling its feet in the waters of gambling appear to be ending.

Responsible gambling in Virginia

One of the unfortunate realities of gambling is that a certain percentage of its fans will take things too far. Problem gambling sufferers can quickly find themselves in a downward spiral and lose far too much on an activity that, ideally, is fun.

For that reason, Virginia has resources set aside to help problem gamblers get into recovery. The best resource for Virginians who find themselves in dire straits is to contact the Virginia Council on Problem Gambling Helpline at 1-888-532-3500. The call is toll-free, confidential and can connect you with experienced professionals who can give you guidance.

The law that changed the Virginia Lottery’s scope to include sports betting also mandated the establishment of the Problem Gambling Treatment and Support Fund, which will be administered by the Virginia Department of Health and Human Services. According to the law, the fund exists “to provide counseling to compulsive gamblers, implement problem gambling treatment and prevention programs, and provide grants to organizations that assist problem gamblers.”

In truth, responsible gambling resources are going to have to beef up as more gambling options become active in the state. The state lottery does maintain a self-exclusion list, but it will need to be more prominent and comprehensive when online sportsbooks launch, and then again when casino properties open their doors.

Problem gambling’s telltale sign is when you want to stop gambling, but you cannot do so. If you are suffering from this symptom, do not wait another moment to act. Each day you suffer from problem gambling is a day lost, along with whatever vital funds you threw away.

Don’t wait another second. Get help.

Virginia Gambling FAQ

When will casinos open in Virginia?

Our best estimate for the timing of casinos in Virginia is sometime in 2023. Assuming that plans move forward, casino operators cannot secure a license to open a facility in Virginia until April 2021. Construction on the resulting property will take at least a year and a half to complete, and possibly longer.

How many casinos will Virginia have?

The November 2020 general election gave us a much better idea about the casino landscape going forward in Virginia. The residents of Bristol, Danville, Norfolk and Portsmouth all voted to allow a casino to come to their town. Richmond will have its own answer the following year.

By law, as many as five casinos could open for business in Virginia. However, we don’t know exactly how many will truly show up yet. Any expansions beyond the five cities would require more legislation.

What games will Virginia casinos offer?

There should be little difference in the game selection at a Virginia casino and casinos in other states. Slots, table games, sports betting and poker should all make appearances.

What types of gambling are legal right now?

For right now, the main types of gambling in Virginia are historical horse racing, live and simulcast racing, daily fantasy sports and lottery. Online sports betting should be launching sometime in 2021.

Will Virginia launch online casinos or poker sites?

No. The current law does not provide for the introduction of online casinos or poker.

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