Virginia Bill Designating Poker As A Game Of Skill Clears First Hurdle

January 25, 2017
Virginia Bill Designating Poker As A Game Of Skill Clears First Hurdle

Virginia state Sen. Louise Lucas has seen plenty of her gaming proposals shot down over the years, but the Senate General Laws Committee broke the streak.

The good and bad news for Virginia poker

This week, the committee passed her bill designating poker as a game of skill, which would allow permitted entities to host poker tournaments.

The bill — SB 1400 — squeaked through the committee by an 8-7 vote.

The legislation’s next stop is the full Senate. If it passes the Senate, it would move on to the Virginia House of Delegates, where its chances (or the chances of any gambling bill to pass for that matter) are considered bleak.

What the VA poker bill bill does

The bill is pretty straightforward in terms of what it authorizes. It would essentially allow entities that already offer bingo games in the state, as well as other approved hosts, to run poker tournaments. It’s not a sweeping piece of legislation that would legalize poker across the state and create licensed card rooms.

“The bill requires the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and the Charitable Gaming Board to regulate poker tournaments, defined in the bill as a competition organized for the purpose of conducting poker games at one or multiple tables where (i) competitors play a series of poker games, (ii) prizes are awarded to winning players on a fixed or proportional payout basis, and (iii) the total prize amount awarded to all winning players at the event is $50,000 or more. Finally, the bill requires poker tournament sponsors to obtain a permit before conducting a tournament and tournament managers and operators to be registered with the Department.”

To be eligible for a permit a person/group/venue must:

  • Apply for and receive a permit from the state.
  • Limit the frequency of poker tournaments to no more than one day per calendar week.

Organizers would also have to abide by the following rules:

  • Players must be at least 18 years of age.
  • Players would only be able to buy in to poker games with cash or check. Rooms could not accept debit cards and credit cards.
  • Neither organizers or any person on the premises would be authorized to extend lines of credit to players.

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Virginia not ready for casinos… yet

Poker is a small part of Lucas’ larger gaming goals.

She has been pushing for the state to authorize casino gambling for several years. But the same committee that approved her poker bill this week voted down her casino bill, 7-8. Virginia casinos are seen as a fool’s errand, mostly because of the state’s very conservative House.

Most observers see it as a long shot.

“Virginia won’t get gaming in my lifetime,” MGM Resorts International CEO Jim Murren said in 2013. “We think that Virginia and many other surrounding states will never have gaming.”

However, despite the near-consensus pessimism, Lucas points to the estimated $300 million Virginians will be spending at Maryland casinos as a reason for action.

She hopes the legislature will eventually overcome its gambling anxieties, much like another very reluctant state — Massachusetts  did in 2011. That state watched hundreds of millions of dollars leave the state for the coffers of Rhode Island and Connecticut casinos before going ahead with casinos of its own.

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