Posts Tagged ‘Virginia’

Virginia Senate Passes Poker “Game of Skill” Bill, Future Unknown

 Virginia Senate Passes Poker “Game of Skill” Bill, Future Unknown

In a highly contentious vote, the Commonwealth of Virginia’s Senate voted to classify poker as a “game of skill.” The future of the Senate bill? That is unknown, but it opens the doors for a plethora of outcomes.

The vote in the Senate was as close as you can get. After the polling was complete, the issue garnered the same number of votes for each side, 19-19, meaning that Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam’s vote was necessary to break the tie. His “aye” vote for passage cleared the way for the bill to now be considered by the Virginia House of Delegates.

The Senate bill, S1400, was originally introduced by Senator Louise Lucas, who was sure that the bill would get out of the Senate chambers. “I had the law on my side,” Lucas commented before the hearing in the Senate committee that would end up passing. This was the third year in a row that Lucas had proposed such legislation, with the bill in previous years dying in the same committee that passed it in 2017.

The bill itself only changes the language in Virginia statutes regarding its definition of poker as a “skill” game and not illegal gambling. The full bill language is as such: Poker; definition of illegal gambling and charitable gaming; poker games authorized; regulation of poker tournaments. Provides that poker is a game of skill and therefore not illegal gambling. The bill also allows a qualified organization to conduct poker games in conjunction with its charitable gaming activities, but does not allow a charitable organization to conduct poker tournaments. 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.

Nowhere in that definition change does it state the future of poker in the state. There are several paths that could be taken in the coming months.

The first is that there could be absolutely nothing done. The Virginia House of Delegates is a notoriously anti-gaming bunch, but of late there has been some changes that the body has allowed. The state offers a lottery, pari-mutuel betting and, in 2016, opened the doors for daily fantasy sports (DFS) inside the state. Whether the House is ready to allow for poker’s decriminalization, however, is unknown.

If the House were to vote through S1400 and Governor Terry McAuliffe (a Democrat) signs it, then several options are available. The opening of casino gaming could be in play as Virginia, with Delaware, West Virginia and Maryland located around it all having some form of casino gaming and/or poker, might be interested in keeping some Virginia residents’ money inside the state. There is also the potential for online poker to come to the fore for the Cavalier State.

Online poker would be the first foray into the industry for the state and they may have the population to make a difference. Virginia, with its estimated 8.4 million residents, is the 12th largest state in the country and is almost the equal of another state that has online casino gaming, New Jersey (8.9 million). Numbers from the barely three-year old New Jersey online casino gaming industry, where there has been over $ 476 million in revenues and $ 71 million in taxes paid by the operators, have been strong even though they were originally overestimated by the state’s Governor, Chris Christie.

This is critical as Virginia legislators look for an injection of funds into the state coffers. In 2014, the state estimated that there would be more than a $ 1 billion shortfall in the budget, with significant cuts potentially on the horizon. Online gaming (if the numbers were like New Jersey’s figures) and casino gaming could be something that Virginia legislators might by eying as a potential to offset the state’s financial woes.

This discussion is quite premature, however, as the bill still must get through the House and get the signature of McAuliffe. Currently there is no discussion planned for S1400 in the House, but that can change quickly. The move to make poker a “skill” game in Virginia may be nothing more than a legal clarification but, if passed, it would open the doors for quite a bit more for the state.

Poker News Daily

Virginia Poker Bill Passes Senate Committee, Full Senate Vote Coming

 Virginia Poker Bill Passes Senate Committee, Full Senate Vote Coming

Facing increased competition from surrounding states, the Commonwealth of Virginia appears to be slowly making its way toward legalizing at least some sort of brick-and-mortar gambling. On Monday, a bill which would legalize poker and authorize the regulation of poker tournaments passed through committee. The bill will likely be voted upon this week.

The bill, S 1400, was introduced by Senator Louise Lucas about two weeks ago. Its first order of business it to legalize poker by declaring it a game of skill. Currently, the state law is a bit murky in this area:

“Illegal gambling” means the making, placing or receipt of any bet or wager in the 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 the Commonwealth.

As you can see, it doesn’t really specify if illegal gambling only requires an element of chance or if it must be entirely based on chance. Poker, as we know, definitely involves plenty of luck, but it also requires much skill.

Thus, Sen. Lucas is looking to amend the law to include the following sentence: “Poker games shall be deemed games of skill, and nothing in this subdivision shall be construed to make any such game illegal gambling.”

Beyond that, the bill also allows for poker tournaments to be held in the state, giving the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services the power to control said tournaments and the Charitable Gaming Board to set the rules and regulations. Pages of nitty-gritty about tournament regulations are included, as well.

On Monday, the Senate General Laws and Technology Committee voted on the bill, passing it – just barely – by an 8-7 vote. The voting was split almost entirely down party lines, but it was one Republican, William DeSteph, Jr., who crossed the aisle and swung the vote to “Yes.” Here is a breakdown of the voting:

YES

George Barker
William DeSteph, Jr.
Adam Ebbin
Marnie Locke
Monty Mason
Jeremy McPike
Scott Surovell
Jennifer Wexton

NO

Richard Black
Siobhan Dunnavant
Bryce Reeves
Frank Ruff
Glen Sturtevant, Jr.
David Suetterlein
Jill Vogel

From here, the bill goes back to the entire Senate for three readings on three separate days. The first, basically a formality where it gets put on the calendar, happened on Wednesday without a single “no” vote. The next reading gives Senators an opportunity to propose amendments. If all amendments are approved or none get proposed (there was a one-word amendment added by the committee, so it doesn’t seem like there will be much going on in the amendment department), the third reading is when the real Senate vote takes place, the one where the entire bill gets the thumbs up or thumbs down.

If the vote is to be held this week, that means the second reading would have to be on Thursday and the third reading, with the vote, would be on Friday.

If the Senate approves the bill, it will move on to the House.

Poker News Daily

Poker Bill Introduced in Virginia

 Poker Bill Introduced in Virginia

A bill to legalize poker was introduced in Virginia last week by State Senator Louise Lucas. The bill, S 1400, would amend the portion of the legal Code of Virginia that pertains to gambling to make an exception for poker under what is currently considered “illegal” gambling.

Right now, illegal gambling is defined as (emphasis added):

….the making, placing or receipt of any bet or wager in the 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 the Commonwealth.

Pretty standard stuff right there.

Sen. Lucas’ amendment tacks on the sentence, “Poker games shall be deemed games of skill, and nothing in this subdivision shall be construed to make any such game illegal gambling.”

Poker is also defined in the bill, but we know what poker is already, so no need to elaborate there.

Note that this has nothing to do with online poker. What would be legalized by the bill is simply the traditional game of poker, not the internet variety. The bill stipulates that any organization that is permitted to host bingo games may also host poker games. Players must be at least 18-years old and the maximum prize is $ 100 (though it says “poker game prize,” so it might not be totally clear if that means $ 100 per hand or $ 100 total for a session).

Just because an organization is qualified to host bingo games, though, does not mean they are permitted to host poker tournaments. The bill has a separate section for that, putting control of poker tournaments in the hands of the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services:

Poker tournaments as defined in this article and authorized herein shall be permitted in the Commonwealth, but shall be conducted only in strict compliance with the provisions of this article. The Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services is vested with control of all poker tournaments in the Commonwealth. The Charitable Gaming Board shall have the power to prescribe regulations and conditions under which such tournaments are conducted to ensure that they are conducted in a manner consistent with this article.

The bill then goes on to detail many of the permitting procedures and responsibilities of the regulators and tournament operators. It’s rather dry, so let’s skip it.

Sen. Lucas, along with her colleague, Sen. Scott Surovell, wrote an op-ed for the Richmond Times-Dispatch in November, urging Virginians to support efforts to legalize and regulate casinos in the state. The catalyst for the article appeared to be the December opening of MGM National Harbor in Maryland, located just outside of Washington, D.C., literally minutes from the Virginia border.

Lucas lamented yet another out-of-state gambling outlet for Virginians, writing:

MGM anticipates that nearly half of its business — $ 350 million per year — will come from Virginians. The Virginia Lottery’s senior economist estimates that the state’s lottery will lose $ 15 million to $ 30 million in sales and $ 5 million to $ 10 million in profits per year starting next year because of the MGM casino.

Also giving mention to the possible benefit of fantasy sports revenues, Lucas ended the piece, “While we could choose to continue helping Maryland, West Virginia and New Jersey’s taxpayers, we could also choose to start diversifying our revenue sources and keeping our money, tax revenue, and jobs right here in Virginia.”

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