Virginia Committee OKs Poker, Nixes Casinos

A Virginia Senate committee OK’d state Senator Louis Lucas’ (l.) bill legalizing poker by designating it as a game of skill. The bill will go to the full Senate. The same committee denied Lucas’ other legislation allowing casino gambling. Lucas said Virginia could lose $300 million due to the new MGM National Harbor casino.

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In an 8-7 vote, the Virginia Senate General Laws and Technology committee passed S 1400, sponsored by state Senator Louise Lucas, which would allow organizations that hold bingo games to also hold poker games, and allow the state to regulate poker tournaments. The measure classifies poker as a game of skill, not chance, making it legal under state law. The full Senate now will consider the bill in the first of three readings and if it’s successful it will go on to the House of Delegates.

However, the same committee killed four other bills sponsored by Lucas that would have legalized casino gambling. Over the years, Lucas has introduced 10 failed casino gambling bills.

Lucas and state Senator Scott A. Surovell, in an op-ed for the Richmond Times-Dispatch in November, stated the nearby $1.4 billion MGM National Harbor casino was projected to annually generate $40-$45 million in tax revenue for Prince George’s County and more than $340 million for the Maryland state budget. The senators wrote the Virginia lottery estimated the state could lose up to $300 million a year due to Virginians gambling at MGM National Harbor and other out-of-state casinos. “Many of us are also looking to try to bring some of those funds back to Virginia,” Lucas said.

Surovell added casino revenue could help the state close its budget gap. “We’re missing out on a real opportunity in this state by not taking advantage of this,” he said. In response to questioning by Surovell, Virginia Lottery Executive Director Paula Otto estimated Virginia could lose an estimated $10 million annually in lottery profit because of MGM National Harbor. The Virginia lottery generates annual profit of about $550 million. Otto also noted MGM National Harbor expects about half its business will come from Virginians. “We’re keeping a very close eye on it,” she said.

In their op-ed, the two senators also presented statistics regarding fantasy sports, as well as a 2015 Virginia lottery survey in which 44 percent of respondents “said they would wager in-person or online if a full-service casino opened in the Commonwealth of Virginia.”

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