Virginia Sen. Louise Lucas has introduced a bill that would reclassify poker as “a game of skill and therefore not illegal gambling.”
Based on the language, Lucas seems to be banking on winning over the conservative state legislature with the same arguments that led to Virginia enacting a daily fantasy sports law last year.
But local poker tournaments might not be the end game Lucas has in mind. Legalizing poker might be the first step of a longer journey.
Lucas has been championing casino gaming
Lucas, who’s served in the Senate since 1992, has been busy on the gambling front in recent years.
She previously introduced legislation (dating back at least a half-decade) that sought to create a casino gaming commission and authorize casinos in areas where 40 percent or more of the land is exempt from property tax. This includes the city of Portsmouth, which is in Lucas’ district.
To date, Lucas’ casino expansion bills have failed to gain much support in the legislature. (It did pass the Committee on General Laws and Technology by a 7-5 vote in 2014). That led one lawmaker with favorable views on gaming expansion to put Virginia’s chances of casino gambling only slightly ahead of Utah’s.
Not a lot of optimism in Virginia
One lawmaker with favorable views on gaming expansion put Virginia’s chances of casino gambling only slightly ahead of Utah’s.
“Forty-nine states will have it before we get it,” the state senate’s Democratic leader Richard Saslaw told the Washington Post in 2013.
And it’s not a good sign when casino executives agree with that assessment.
“Virginia won’t get gaming in my lifetime,” current MGM Resorts International CEO Jim Murren said several years ago.
In 2014, Lucas made the case for changing Virginia’s archaic gambling laws, noting that it is one of fewer than a dozen states without a commercial or tribal casino, but could use the money for infrastructure.
“Transportation is most near and dear to my heart, but I don’t like tolls,” Saslaw said. “Thirty-nine states already have casinos. I hope Virginia and Utah won’t be the last two.”
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Lucas’ poker bill aimed at tournaments
The new poker bill, SB 1400, was prefiled on Jan. 11, and referred to the Committee on General Laws and Technology.
According to the legislation:
“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.”
Lucas’ bill details many of the stipulations under which an organization would be able to run a poker game in the commonwealth.
Among the other stipulations in the bill:
- Poker tournament sponsors would need to apply for and receive a permit from the state. The fee structure seems very nominal, but the final amount would be left up to state regulators.
- Hosts are limited to having an event one day per calendar week.
- Players must be at least 18 years of age, not 21 as is the case in most locales.
- Players would only be able to buy in to poker games with cash or check. Debit cards and credit cards are not allowed.
- Neither organizers or any person on the premises would be authorized to extend lines of credit to players.