Good bet gambling interests will push for casinos, sports betting in Virginia

WASHINGTON — Big name casinos and slot machine makers seem ready to make a concerted push in Virginia’s General Assembly.

“More than a dozen lobbyists have registered to represent casino and gambling interests, including some of the big names, like MGM Grand and Caesars, ahead of the General Assembly session early next year,” said reporter Ned Oliver, of the Virginia Mercury.

Analysts Oliver spoke with said the precise goals of the big players aren’t yet clear, in part because Virginia gamblers only have to travel to neighboring Maryland or West Virginia.

“That probably has a lot to do with the interest of MGM Grand and Caesars,” said Oliver.

“Their customers are in some cases just an eight-minute drive away from Alexandria, and they could mostly be interested in protecting their existing interests. But if something is coming down the pike in the General Assembly in Virginia, they want to make sure they’re in on the game.”

Oliver said two recent events serve as strong indicators Virginia may be ready to capitalize on casinos and sports betting with new legislation.

“First, the Supreme Court ruling earlier this year gave states the ability to legalize sports betting,” said Oliver. “And then the General Assembly opened the door just a crack when they gave the operators of Colonial Downs, a horse race track in New Kent County, permission to install 3,000 slot machines.”

Oliver said Virginia lawmakers “have been fairly conservative” with previous efforts to increase the number of gambling opportunities in the commonwealth.

“A Democratic lawmaker in Hampton Roads, Louise Lucas, has pretty much every year tried to get a casino in her district — every year it gets voted down in committee on a party-line vote, with Democrats supporting and Republicans opposing.”

As to where the casino might be located?

“In Bristol, in the far southwestern corner of the state there’s a team of developers who’s making a major push to get legislation that would enable them to open a casino in a former shopping mall that’s been empty for quite some time,” Oliver said.

Meanwhile, the Pamunkey Indian Tribe is pursuing a $700 million casino in New Kent County, between Hampton Roads and Richmond, according to Oliver.

Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a general assignment reporter with WTOP since 1997. He says he looks forward to coming to work every day, even though that means waking up at 3:30 a.m.

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