Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam signed legislation on Friday that could eventually result in casino gaming coming to Virginia.
Northam signed Senate Bill 1126, which directs the Joint Legislative and Review Commission to conduct a comprehensive study of casino gaming regulations and submit its report by Dec. 1. It also establishes the framework for the Lottery Board to oversee gaming and would allow certain localities to conduct voter referenda on the subject.
The bill could eventually lead to the establishment of the $250 million Bristol Resort and Casino at the vacant Bristol Mall.
A spokesman for that project said the governor’s action is appreciated.
“We are looking to stay engaged and working to see this through the process and we are still committed to doing the project in Bristol,” according to the statement. “We’ve got a ways to go but there is a commitment by lots of parties to go through this process that will hopefully allow us to move forward.”
The legislation must be re-enacted by the General Assembly during its 2020 session and, if it is, establish a series of deadlines.
No referendum may be held until the bill is re-enacted and the JLARC findings are published, with the deadline for any such vote Jan. 1, 2021. The Lottery Board must assemble regulations by June 30, 2020, and no license for a gaming operation may be issued before July 1, 2020.
The bill’s language limits referenda to three cities with economic challenges — Bristol, Danville and Portsmouth — as well as Richmond and Norfolk, which have been identified as potential sites for the Pamunkey Indian tribe to establish a casino.
It also stipulates that a gaming license will only be issued for projects with a minimum capital investment of $200 million in land, facilities, infrastructure, equipment and furnishings.