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Lawmakers want study before green-lighting casino gambling in Virginia

RICHMOND, Va. -- The Virginia Senate pushed forward a plan to allow casinos in Virginia, but advanced the measure with a catch: they want state investigators to study the issue before officially signing off on casino gambling.

SB 1126 would set the framework for operating casinos in Virginia, which would be under the watch of the Virginia Lottery Board.  The bill lays out specific cities where casinos would be allowed, and requires a voter referendum by people living in a city or locality before one could open in that area.

During a packed Senate Finance Committee meeting Wednesday, Sen. Tommy Norment (R-Williamsburg) introduced a substitute provision to the bill that would require the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLRAC) to study the issue and release a report on the impact casino gambling would have on the Commonwealth.  Norment said the study would include collecting information about how other states regulate casinos.

Supporters of the bill, including Sen. Charles Carrico (R-Bristol), said delaying Virginia's entrance into gambling may cause operators to look to other states, costing certain regions the chance to collect tax dollars.

Norment said his intention is not to slow down the plan but to make sure Virginia has all the information it needs to make a decision of this magnitude.

“It is probably hard for some of you who are advocates of this.  I really am trying to in the overall context to keep this moving," Norment said.

Under the bill, local voters would have to approve a casino gaming establishment in a referendum before it could get a license from the Virginia Lottery Board. The measure that emerged from the General Laws and Technology Committee also specifies that only one license can be issued per city.

Gov. Ralph Northam previously called for a study on casino gambling. The committee’s substitute bill adopted that idea and said a “review of casino gaming laws in other states” would be conducted concurrently with local efforts toward possible referendums. No casino license could be issued until July 1, 2020, according to the legislation.

Under the bill, local voters would have to approve a casino gaming establishment in a referendum before it could get a license from the Virginia Lottery Board. The measure that emerged from the General Laws and Technology Committee also specifies that only one license can be issued per city.

Gov. Ralph Northam previously called for a study on casino gambling and administration officials repeated that position during the meeting.

No casino license could be issued until July 1, 2020, according to the legislation.

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