Category Archives: Gambling

Governor Leaves Consistency and Principle Behind

Playing a “skills game”. Photo credit: Virginian Pilot

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

With his proposed amendments to legislation regulating “games of skill,” Gov. Youngkin has demonstrated deep inconsistencies, if not outright hypocrisy.

Before getting into the specifics, a little background is needed.

“Games of skill” are machines on which people can play and win money. The proponents of the machines claim that some element of skill is needed to win. The opponents claim that the machines are not that different from slot machines, in which pure luck is involved. Not having played any “games of skill,” I am not going to offer any judgment on this argument.

Skill games are present in many, if not most, convenience stores, truck stops, and even some sit-down restaurants, such as the Kelly’s Tavern franchise in Virginia Beach. The machines themselves are owned by large corporations, mostly from out of state. The owners of the venues receive an agreed-upon share of the revenue generated by the machines. The revenue can be significant and many of the businesses have come to depend on it. Continue reading

Common Sense from Young Delegate Earley

Del. Mark Earley Jr.

by Gordon C. Morse

Occasionally, a member of the House of Delegates will stand up, speak to a matter of public interest and do so coherently. 

Del. Mark L. Earley Jr., R-Chesterfield, achieved this feat on Friday afternoon, Feb. 23, 2024, when he offered his thoughts on state Sen. Bill 212 — legislation that would sanction skill games, described by the Richmond Times-Dispatch as “electronic slot machine-like devices the General Assembly tried to ban in 2020.” 

While the measure cleared the House of Delegates on a 57-38 vote, Del. Earley spoke to a broader concern:  

Mr. Speaker, ladies and gentlemen of the House, I don’t want to take a lot of your time today. I know it’s Friday. But I just feel compelled to comment on this briefly. 

As we all know, in the last few years, really about a five-year time frame, we’ve have had a serious expansion, in a very short amount of time, in gaming and gambling here in Virginia. At this point, we got the lottery, we got casinos, we got sports betting, we got all sorts of things.

And now we have these gray games, skill games, whatever you want to call them, that have really sort of come here imposed upon us in a certain way, and now we’re dealing with it. 

Now,  don’t get me wrong, I certainly understand the arguments about how small business can potentially benefit from this, and I appreciate that. I am very sympathetic to it. 

But I do think that we have a different obligation, and perhaps a higher obligation, to consider what this means for our neighborhoods and our families. 

I’m concerned about turning every neighborhood store and every gas station into a mini casino.  Continue reading

Casino’s Last Stand: A Nauseating Display of Hate

Downtown Richmond

by Jon Baliles

The second casino referendum will be decided on Tuesday and it will be a vote (again) on whether or not Richmond wants to do the get-rich-quick schemes to help people or do the hard work of methodically mapping out a strategy and building a future. The get-rich-quick schemes like the casino and Navy Hill only benefit the select few, but the promoters promise the world to everyone and benevolence as far as the eye can see — vote for it and approve it for YOUR benefit, they say. It will be better FOR YOU than it will be for us, they boast.

We called B.S. on Navy Hill and we need to do it again with the casino, which will be a predatory drain on the community and do more harm than good, despite what they promise. And this will not be a policy wonky dive into the casino, I promise. That’s because this issue is sadly a nauseating reveal of what the casino developers really think about Richmond and Richmonders, told in their own words.

News came out this week that the promoters of the casino have been going on radio in recent days and trashing everyone in Richmond that does not support the casino. They have spent more than $10 million to try and convince people to vote for it, but they are badmouthing and trashing opponents on their own radio stations for all to hear with vile and offensive an inexcusable comments demeaning people of all kinds — black and white; the rich, middle class and poor; churchgoers, pastors. It did not matter. It was open season on anyone who didn’t support the casino; they especially went after Jim Ukrop and they absolutely thrash Tim Kaine because he voted no in 2021 and said there were better ways to promote economic development in Southside. Continue reading

Resorts Like Airports

by Jon Baliles

There has been a lot of boasting from the casino advocates about their partnership with Kentucky-based Churchill Downs, Inc. (CDI). The rebranded Richmond Grand casino developer Urban One is a radio and TV conglomerate that has said they are partnering with CDI because of their huge capitalization and experience with casinos. But let’s take a look at Churchill Downs’ casino portfolio, because it’s not what the casino advocates have been claiming.

CDI is obviously world-famous for the running of the Kentucky Derby horse race, and they have expanded their portfolio to include more and more gaming facilities in recent years. CDI bought out Peninsula Pacific Entertainment (PPE) in a $2.75 billion deal in 2022, and PPE had been Urban One’s original partner in the first, failed casino referendum. The deal included the Colonial Downs Racetrack in New Kent, as well as six Rosie’s Gaming Emporium historical horse racing facilities across Virginia plus two smaller casinos, one in Iowa and one in New York. But among the eleven casinos in the CDI portfolio, none are anywhere near the scale what they promise for Richmond. And none of those eleven casinos resemble anything grand — except for the indisputable fact that the house always wins, even if the resort looks more like an airport.

The Richmond Grand advocates claim their casino will have a 250-room hotel, an entertainment/concert venue with 3,000 seats, a TV and film production soundstage, and 15 restaurants and “dining options.” But if you look at their other casinos, they are all small casinos in small markets and are not even close to the “resort” they claim to be bringing to Richmond. Continue reading

Deep Dive: Casinos, Highways, and Ignoring RVA Voters

Downtown Richmond

by Jon Baliles

Republished with permission from RVA 5×5.

They say the past is prologue and that if you don’t learn from history, you are doomed to repeat it, among other famous quotes that have stood the test of time. And they have a factor of truth and lesson in them. And so is the case with next month’s casino referendum, the second one we have had the chance to vote for because the first one was ignored by city leaders in 2021.

This Deep Dive is a look back at the last time Richmond faced two referendums on one topic in short succession — the people were asked to vote to register their voice and they said no to the city leaders, planners, and business leaders. Both times, the people’s voice was ignored, and both times the city leaders overruled their vote and their voice and pursued their plans irrespective of the results — with disastrous and long-lasting consequences.

This may be starting to sound familiar. Continue reading

Eternal Betting

by Jon Baliles

Two weeks ago, you probably heard the news about the vote promise scam from Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney  and the casino advocates that they would put 2/3 of the annual casino tax revenue towards early childcare for kids in Southside. This week, you might have heard about the press conference that the unions held that said they reached an agreement with the casino advocates that would promise hundreds or thousands of new union jobs and “paths into the middle class” for young people and families.

While it is unconfirmed at this time, there are several rumors going around that in another few weeks that casino advocates will hold a press conference promising eternal life for seniors if they vote for the casino referendum on November 7th.

Who knows, at this rate of promising anything and everything for your vote, the casino advocates might have Oprah in RVA by late October offering new cars for any remaining voters as long as they have a mail-in ballot marked Yes. So, don’t vote too early!

The second casino referendum has become a leveraged buyout of the voters and there is no dollar amount or offer that won’t be matched by the casino advocates to get the referendum across the line the second time around. They have already raised and committed $8 million to buy your vote, and that total will almost certainly go up.

But alas, these and the other yet-to-be-revealed voting scams are just a way to hoodwink voters into believing that the casino will exist to do more good for the community than it will for the owners and investors. Which is clearly not the case. It isn’t the case in Bristol, or Danville, or Portsmouth or any casino in the country. Continue reading

“Blessed“ Is the Second RVA Casino Referendum

by Jon Baliles

Early voting has begin in Virginia and the Richmond casino advocates have gone all-in with the mayor and City Council to make sure the referendum got back on the ballot and now are betting the house with an absurd amount of money to make sure the referendum passes this time.

Jimmy Cloutier at Virginia Investigative Journalism has an interesting piece on the all out effort by the casino advocates to buy their way to a victory at the polls  this time around. He points out that two out-of-state companies (Urban One, based in Maryland and Churchill Downs, based in Kentucky) have already raised $8.1 million which “dwarfs the amount of money raised in every Virginia legislative race and ballot initiative in state history, according to an analysis of campaign finance data by OpenSecrets.” Continue reading

RVA 5×5: Referendum Waiting In The Wings

by Jon Baliles

Three weeks or so ago, the regurgitation of the casino referendum got a round of approval from almost everyone on City Council in a meeting that was filled with unearned righteousness about how it was going to save the city (kudos to Councilwoman Katherine Jordan for the lone no vote).

Richmond BizSense reported that:

Councilmembers contended that misinformation about the project the first go-round warranted putting it to the voters a second time. They stressed that the development (no longer being referred to as a casino), would not involve funding support from the city and would create jobs and economic opportunities for Southside and the rest of the city.

Of course, most people knew this the last go-round because the advocates of the casino spent $2.5 million on billboards, mailers, and ads telling us ad nauseam about the “benefits” of a casino and how it wouldn’t cost the city anything. Now, they want to pretend we were too stupid to know that the real reasons they were pushing the first time around weren’t what they spent $2.5 million promoting.
Continue reading

RVA 5×5 — Who Really Voted Down The Casino Referendum?

by Jon Baliles

The casino referendum is the issue that won’t go away — kind of like a desperate or compulsive gambler who stays put because the next hand is the winning hand, or the slot player who is completely convinced the next pull of that handle will deliver the jackpot. At some point, you need to walk away.

The relentless effort to build a casino in Richmond and revive the referendum for the third time in 2023 (it failed in 2021 and tried but failed to return to the ballot in 2022) is about to become the hottest potato tossed around the General Assembly session when it opens next week. I won’t bore you to tears with recapping the details from the past few months — this is a look back at the vote in 2021 and what it means in 2023 — but you can read more about the non-stop casino drama here, here, and here, if you so desire.

The people voted the casino down in 2021 in a referendum that was required by the state, but Mayor Stoney and others looked at the results and concluded the easiest and most convenient explanation of the final tally could be explained by race. Except, what Stoney and others maybe didn’t realize is that the voting data show that the referendum failed because a huge number of Terry McAuliffe voters also voted against the casino.

The Stage

Before we get into the data, however, let’s set the stage. Richmond is lobbying the legislature hard as we speak and will stop at nothing to get the referendum back on the ballot in 2023. Petersburg wants to have a shot at a casino referendum next year and make Richmond wait a few years since they already tried and failed. If Richmond does get approval for another referendum, the casino applicant in Petersburg has said it will not move forward with its plan and there would be no need for a referendum in Petersburg. So, the stakes are clear and the battle has already been joined. Stay tuned.

The inability of Richmond’s leaders to get the casino application/selection process completed and on the ballot for the 2020 election (like the other four casinos in Virginia did) cost them dearly. In a presidential year, that referendum would have been approved easily given the high level of turnout (the other four cities approved their referendums in 2020 with at least 65%). We saw a tight gubernatorial race in 2021 (with a record voter turnout for a gubernatorial election, but still lower than a presidential year), and the casino referendum went down to a very narrow defeat. Continue reading

Portsmouth: Chaos + Casino = Chaos

Louise Lucas

by James C. Sherlock

Portsmouth has a lot of problems. Look for them to get worse in February when its new casino is scheduled to open.

A key thing you need to know about the casino is that it is the realization of Louise Lucas’ vision. Senator Lucas has spent 22 years promoting a casino in Portsmouth. As if that was just the thing Portsmouth needed to become a successful city.

Her vision was clarified by nearly $50,000 in campaign donations from casino interests.

Introduced in January 2019 by Lucas, Virginia Senate Bill 1126 earmarked commercial casinos for the towns of Bristol, Danville, and Portsmouth. The legislation also permitted the Pamunkey Indian Tribe to build Native American casinos in Richmond and Norfolk.

Rivers Casino Portsmouth is scheduled to open in February, just across the water or through the tunnels here in South Hampton Roads from the new casino in Norfolk that will open in 2024.

Both were teed up by a Joint Legislative Audit Review Committee (JLARC) study required by that legislation prior to the votes of the citizens of those five locations.

The site-specific study done for JLARC by the Innovation Group projects the casino in Norfolk will generate only slightly more revenue than the one in Portsmouth. It forecasts that in 2025, the Norfolk casino would produce about $150 million in total revenue and the Portsmouth site $130 million. Continue reading

Schools, Floods, Roads, Monuments, Gambling, Oh My!

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

Local referenda, while important locally, are often overlooked in the media coverage of elections. However, the results of those elections may provide some insight into the mood of the electorate, at least in some areas of the state. Following is a summary of the results of the local referenda on the ballot last Tuesday.

Localities cannot hold a referendum unless authorized or required by state law. The most common referendum question has to do with the issuance of general obligation bonds. The state constitution governs when a referendum is required. Generally speaking, a county cannot issue general obligation bonds unless approved by the voters in a referendum. In contrast, cities and towns are not required to have a referendum. However, some cities have charter provisions restricting how much general obligation debt they can issue. Virginia Beach and Danville, the two cities that held bond referenda this year, fall into this category.

In addition, referenda are allowed or required on a variety of policy questions.  This year there were referenda on the levying of additional sales tax, establishment of gambling enterprises, and replacement or relocation of monuments. Continue reading

Virginians Seek Help for Problem Gambling as Industry Expands

by Carolyn Hawley

In the first six months of 2021, individuals requesting help for gambling-related problems made 394 phone calls to the Virginia Problem Gambling Helpline. That compares to 335 intakes in all of 2020, and 311 intakes in 2019 — meaning the Commonwealth is seeing a significant increase in call volume made by individuals with gambling problems or family members who are concerned for them.

The increase in help-seeking phone calls corresponds with the expansion of gambling availability within the Commonwealth. Data from other states suggests that when gambling expands, rates of problem gambling tend to rise, although these often level off. Most importantly, it signifies an urgency need to grow a network of professionals to treat this rising need. Continue reading

Marijuana and Casino Legalization Linked to Increases in Mental Illness and Substance Abuse

Paul Krizek (D-Pamunkey Nation)

by James C. Sherlock

We know what is going to happen.

Dr. Daniel Carey M.D., Virginia’s Secretary of Health and Human Resources, will soon apply to the federal government for funding for substance abuse prevention grants.

He knows.

He plans to tell the federal government that additional people, mostly poor and Black, are going to suffer and die from mental illness and substance abuse because we legalized marijuana, casinos and sports betting.

But apparently we did it for a good cause — equity — or so some say.

The opening statement of that draft application reads:

Statewide Impact of COVID-19 Pandemic on Behavioral Health and Substance Use

The unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting health impact, uncertainty, social isolation, and economic distress are expected to substantially increase the behavioral health needs of Virginians. Increased alcohol, substance use, including increased overdose rates are key concerns, as well as COVID-19 impacts already evident in Virginia.

Continue reading

Minority Businesses Decry Northam Gaming Restriction

by James A. Bacon

Minority small business owners operating under the name “Virginia Small Businesses for Skill Games” are calling on Governor Ralph Northam to amend legislation to keep the game terminals in bars, restaurants and convenience stores. Casinos, which are years away from opening in the four localities where they have been approved, have lobbied to eliminate the slot machine-like terminals which would compete with their franchises. Continue reading

A Break from COVID — Gambling

Photo Credit: Richmond Times-Dispatch

By Dick Hall-Sizemore

The Governor is in a tug-of-war with his Democratic colleagues in the General Assembly. The objects of their contention are the so-called “skill games” (also sometimes called “gray machines”).

The skill games are video games now found in numerous truck stops and convenience stores that offer a cash prize to the winners. The opponents of such games have denounced them as illegal gambling. One Commonwealth’s attorney has charged the distributor of such games for violating Virginia law. The games’ distributors contend they are games of skill. Continue reading