Expanded Virginia Gambling to be Considered by General Assembly

Expanded Virginia Gambling to be Considered by General Assembly

Virginia’s legal gaming landscape has shifted rapidly over the past five years. In decades past, legal gambling was limited to the Virginia Lottery, authorized in the early 1990s through a statewide referendum. Prior to five years ago, the only other legal form of wagering in Virginia was charitable bingo and “pull-tab” machines. Charitable gaming provides a sizable portion of funding for many of Virginia’s nonprofit organizations, and is regulated by the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. 

However, in 2018, Virginia expanded gaming when the General Assembly legalized wagering on “Historical Horse Racing” (HHR) machines at the Colonial Downs racetrack in New Kent County and six other sites, including the Town of Dumfries in Northern Virginia. The satellite locations required local approval though a local referendum before they could move forward. The HHR machines are overseen by the Virginia Racing Commission. 

In 2020, the General Assembly passed legislation that authorized gambling on most professional sporting events, overseen by the Virginia Lottery. Sports betting is available online, on a cell phone, or at a Virginia-based casino and other certain locations. 

In addition, the General Assembly - in 2020 - legalized casino gaming (overseen by the Virginia Lottery) at up to five locations pending approval in a local referendum. They include Portsmouth, Bristol, Norfolk, Danville, and Richmond. Since 2020, four of those cities have passed the required referendum and opened a casino. However, Richmond voters defeated a referendum to approve a casino two times in a span of three years. 

Three of the major gaming issues in 2024 are the potential legalization of “gray machines” (or “skill games”), the possible addition of casinos in Northern Virginia and Petersburg, and the legalization of slot machine-like Video Gaming Terminals (VGTs) in restaurants around the state. 

As I wrote in the Richmond Times-Dispatch this past fall, I am not a fan of gray machines, primarily because they are often encountered in nontraditional gaming environments, like convenience stores where families might shop for everyday items, or restaurants. This contrasts with destination-oriented gaming sites like a casino, where a consumer has made a conscious decision to seek out gambling. For several years, the machines operated in a “gray area” that was not explicitly legal. 

In my opinion, gray machines don’t serve the consumer interests of Virginia’s gambling public. Unfortunately, as of this writing, the bill to legalize gray machines does not contain a system that the Commonwealth could verify or audit to ensure that the Department of Taxation and the small business owners where the machines are located get their fair share of the proceeds. I am also concerned that some proposals to legalize gray machines do not contain protections to dissuade wagering by underage Virginians. 

I also expect that bills to establish casinos in the Tysons area of Northern Virginia, along with a conference center, and in the City of Petersburg, will generate much attention. As Chairman of the General Laws and Technology Committee, I have appointed a Gaming Subcommittee so that the numerous, and complex gambling bills can be compared and considered, with the exception of one bill that was considered by the Commerce and Labor Committee.

I also serve on the Joint Subcommittee to Study the Feasibility of Establishing a Virginia Gaming Commission to provide a more unified governance of the various forms of gambling in Virginia. As described above, the current landscape for Virginia gaming involves the Virginia Racing Commission, the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, and the Virginia Lottery. I believe that one single entity overseeing what is now a regulatory patchwork would better serve the public. 

39th Senate District Town Hall - Sunday, Jan. 21

This Sunday, Jan. 21, from 1 pm to 3 pm, at Alexandria City High School, please join me and Delegates Charniele Herring, Elizabeth Bennett-Parker, Alfonso Lopez, and Adele McClure for a 39th Senate District Town Hall. The event will be moderated by Virginia public radio reporter Michael Lee Pope, who will pose questions pre-submitted online or at the event. If you would like to RSVP, or pre-submit a question, visit www.adamebbin.com/townhallrsvp 

Stay in the Know 

You can stay on top of General Assembly events through the Virginia Legislative Information System (LIS) website. On that site, you can find many helpful links, including: 

● All legislation introduced, including the bills that I am putting forward; 

● You can find listings of all members of the General Assembly, as well as the committees that hear legislation, and the regularly-updated meetings calendar that lists when committee meetings and other events are taking place; 

● You can find a live feed of the State Senate, and any meetings of Senate committees here, as well as archived footage of recent State Senate hearings and floor proceedings. 

My new legislative email address is SenatorEbbin@senate.virginia.gov. You can also reach us at our new Richmond phone number 804-698-7539. 

It is my continued honor to represent the people of the 39th Senate District.