Two similar bills to allow casinos by referendums continue moving through the Virginia General Assembly, but a committee will likely have to resolve their differences.

On Thursday, the House of Delegates held second reading on a substitute version of Senate Bill 36, advancing the bill for third reading.

The Senate’s General Laws and Technology Committee late Wednesday reported out House Bill 4 by an 11-1 vote, including support from Sen. Todd Pillion, R-Abingdon. That bill was referred to the Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee, which is scheduled to meet early next week.

The bills are similar in most regards. Both would allow one casino to operate in Bristol, Danville, Norfolk, Portsmouth and Richmond, if approved by the registered voters of each city. Both would establish oversight by the Virginia Lottery Board and define an in-depth procedure for background checks of all casino operators and employees.

The House substitute alters the Senate bill’s language to make it conform to the House version, which features a lower tax rate on gaming revenues and a two-tier taxing system based on the developers’ investment in the casino.

The Senate-approved version would set one set of tax rates, regardless of investment, imposing higher taxing percentages for the state and locality.

The bills also differ on the fee for a casino license — $5 million in the House version and $15 million in the Senate.

Working out those differences will likely fall to a group of six lawmakers — three from each chamber, according to Del. Will Morefield, R-N. Tazewell. He and other members of the Southwest delegation have voted for the casino legislation, but are on record opposing the higher tax rates proposed in the Senate substitute.

“Each chamber will insist on their original language and then a committee of conference will be established,” Morefield wrote in an email.

“The conference committee will then come to an agreement on certain provisions of the bill. This will include an established tax rate and other important provisions,” Morefield wrote. “Once an agreement has been reached then at least two signatures from the House and two signatures from the Senate are required to approve the conference committee report. After the conference is reported then both the House and Senate will request a floor vote for approval in each chamber. If approved, it will then go to the governor for his consideration.”

On Thursday, the House also voted 71-26 to approve a budget amendment to provide funds to the Virginia Lottery Board to facilitate background checks on potential casino operators.

“This [amendment] has no fiscal impact whatsoever on the general fund budget,” Del. Barry Knight, R-Virginia Beach, said in response to opposition. “The application fee every casino will be $50,000 minimum. If it costs any more than that, we’ll tack that on to the application fee to do the background checks. As it stands right now — House Bill 4 — the license fee will be $5 million, which will more than off-set the cost of this.”

dmcgee@bristolnews.com | 276-645-2532 | Twitter: @DMcGeeBHC

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