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State lawmakers say Virginia needs a unified approach to gambling regulation

A gambler rings up a win on a slot machine at the Hard Rock casino in Atlantic City, N.J., Aug. 8, 2022.
Wayne Parry
A gambler rings up a win on a slot machine at the Hard Rock casino in Atlantic City, N.J., Aug. 8, 2022.

Recent years have seen an explosion of legal gambling options in Virginia. And lawmakers are now talking about creating a gambling commission to oversee the industry.

Your local convenience store might have gambling, and then there is bingo night to help out a nonprofit. On a larger scale, Virginia now has sports betting and casinos. Some of that gambling is overseen by the Racing Commission. Some of it’s overseen by the Virginia Department of Agriculture. Some of it is overseen by the Virginia Lottery – a patchwork approach that bothers Senator John Bell of Loudoun County.

"Gambling operations are places where people launder money," Bell says. "So, we need to have protections that would come with this, and I think we’re entering this like it or not in a big way and in a few years, it's going to be a gigantic industry in Virginia, and we need to prepare for it now."

He says Virginia needs a Gambling Commission with a cabinet-level secretary to oversee this growing industry – everything from casinos and historic horse racing to charitable gaming and those machines at convenience stores.

Delegate Paul Krizek is a Democrat from Fairfax County.

"The bill that we have progressing through the General Assembly is to create a study to figure out what kind of a system we should have next year," Krizek explains. "It could still very well be Lottery that takes on that role, or it could be a new entity altogether."

Lawmakers are also considering another bill that would allow Petersburg to hold a referendum to see if voters would approve a new casino there. That would be the fifth casino in Virginia.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.

Michael Pope is an author and journalist who lives in Old Town Alexandria.