Legal Gambling in Virginia
An Overview Of The Gambling Laws In The State Of Virginia
Virginia is a casino-less State, having no commercial or tribal venues for either casino gaming or poker games. What they do have is a network of pari-mutuel betting venues, along with electronic kiosks in bars and restaurants for betting on Simulcast races. You can also enjoy a lottery and limited charity gambling games here. Poker fans can also enjoy a home-game under certain restrictions. This article gives you an overview of the gambling laws in Virginia.
First up below, you will find the recent history of gambling within this State in quick-fire fashion. After that a run-down of the different types of gambling activity is provided, along with a current status of each. Next you can find key parts of the statutes quoted and analyzed, along with a legal timeline. Finally there is a summary and look towards the future for gambling legislation.
Virginia Gambling Laws – A Brief History
Where Virginia lead the way is in their pari-mutuel horse-race betting infrastructure. This State only has one racetrack (called Colonial Downs). They make up for this by legalizing off-track betting terminals, as well as the more recent EZ Betting terminals in restaurants and bars. With betting on Simulcast races from around the country, some of the revenue generated from this betting goes directly to the horse breeders. In addition, Virginian horses who win races in other States get an extra financial boost from the pool of betting levies.
There have been attempts to legalize River Boat casinos as far back as 1995. No attempt at a bill ever made it to the Senate floor, all dying while in committee. The latest attempts were in 2013 and suffered a similar fate. The main argument seems to be that residents are crossing over into Maryland, and that the casino revenue they generate could be kept in Virginia. So far this line of thinking has not gained many supporters.
Poker also suffers from a lack of licensed venues. This game does get a carve-out in the Statute books though for social home-games. The rules are clear, it must be a non-profit game (nobody taking a rake or charging an entry fee) and not regular.
The remaining legal options here are the lottery, which is very popular and channels profits into education – and charity bingo and raffle type games. The latter games are run by good causes and veterans organizations, and have strict limits on the prizes and frequency of the games.
There is little reason to think that Virginia would be a candidate for regulation of online gambling. Though once this is established as a viable revenue stream by many other States there is always a possibility that regulation will gain support.
What Forms Of Gambling Are Currently Legal?
Casino Gaming: No, there are no casinos in Virginia, either State-run or tribal. Maryland is the main destination for casino fans.
Online Casinos: No, there is no specific wording covering online gambling. As with the majority of other States, this is assumed to be covered by the existing statutes.
Live Poker: No, no legal card-rooms exist, you can play home-games as long as the participants play as equals and no individual is profiting from raking the pots or hosting the games.
Online Poker: No, this State has no current plans to regulate online poker games, with their reluctance to license casinos or live poker, it is not thought that this State is a viable candidate for early internet regulation.
Sports Betting: Yes, Pari-mutuel betting on horse races is a mature industry. You can bet on-track (at Colonial Downs) or at a number of satellite offices. New innovations added EZ Betting terminals, which allow participation in these bets from restaurants and bars using electronic terminals.
Lottery Betting: Yes, Virginia has a State lottery and participates in the inter-State combined lottery games too.
Bingo Games: Yes, these (along with raffles) come under the wide-ranging charitable gambling laws.
Virginia Gambling Laws – Statutes And Legal Timeline
Placing of a bet on a game of chance is the core definition of illegal gambling under the Statutes, which still use the term ‘commonwealth’ in lieu of State. The ‘uncertain or a matter of chance’ would appear to cover poker games, while uniquely, this definition does cover games occurring outside of State borders too. Most States would make this into a separate definition – for example mentioning telephone or internet betting.
Here is the key wording from the books:
“"Illegal gambling" means the making, placing or receipt, of any bet or wager in this Commonwealth of money or other thing of value, made in exchange for a chance to win a prize, stake or other consideration or thing of value, dependent upon the result of any game, contest or any other event the outcome of which is uncertain or a matter of chance, whether such game, contest or event, occurs or is to occur inside or outside the limits of this Commonwealth. “ (From 18.2-325)
While the penalties for gambling itself are mild, operating a venue for gambling purposes, or even knowing about one and not informing the police both have harsher penalties under Virginian law.
Here is the carve out for social gaming in private residences, not that there is a ‘regularly’ point made, though this is hard to define itself, I can assume this means a private game happening every night would raise more than a few suspicions.
" Nothing in this article shall be construed to make it illegal to participate in a game of chance conducted in a private residence, provided such private residence is not commonly used for such games of chance and there is no operator as defined in subsection 4" (from 18-2-334)
Here is the timeline of notable events affecting gambling fans in Virginia:
1973: Charitable gambling laws begin, initially with the responsibility resting with local governments. A separate oversight commission was formed in 1995, taking control the next year.
1987: State lottery legalized, with the first game going live 1 year later, profits would be diverted exclusively to the State’s education fund from the year 2000.
1989: Virginia Racing Commission (VRC) created with responsibility for pari-mutuel betting within the State.
1995: Bill proposed to establish a riverboat gaming commission, this did not make it past committee.
1997: Colonial Downs opens, this is still Virginia’s only horse racing track.
2003: VRC responsibilities extended to cover off-track betting facilities.
2004: EZ Betting terminals were introduced for the first time.
2013: Another attempt to legalize riverboat gambling fails, bill SB1363 would have established a committee to oversee legalization.
Virginia Gambling Laws – Summary And Future Outlook
With the exception of the horse-racing betting built around their single racetrack, Virginia is not a gambling-friendly State. Their lack of casino and poker venues forces people to cross into neighboring Maryland, or travel even further afield to Atlantic City. It seems there is some support for Riverboat casinos in this State, though the bills put forward have all been killed off in committee so far.
Based on this history of this State and their lack of support for progressive gambling legislation, I do not expect to see regulated online poker games or other gambling in the near future.
Summary Of Statutes
News Of Latest Bill