Virginia Poker Bill Passes Senate Committee, Full Senate Vote Coming



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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.

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