Gambling fever

Published 10:29 am Wednesday, March 13, 2019

One of the most reported issues this session was the interest in casinos, sports betting, pull tabs games in restaurants, and expansion of bingo. Why the sudden interest? Several things that occurred in just a few months drove this excitement.

In 2018, the courts ruled that Nevada didn’t have a monopoly right to betting on sports. The result was that some states looked to finance their budget by allowing betting within their borders. New Jersey was adding multimillions to their budgets in a manner of months. At the same time, the Pamunkey Indian Tribe was recognized by the federal government. Despite years of saying they had no interest in establishing casinos on the tribal lands, almost immediately after receiving recognition they starting looking for a site for a casino. Meanwhile, national companies jumped on an ABC department’s attorney ruling that established that some gambling machines are games of skill, not games of chance. Not to be left out, charities that operate bingo games wanted more income. They asked to allow pull tab games in any restaurant or bar that would allow them.


Last fall, sensing that the Pamunkey tribe would get rich with a casino or two, the leadership of Bristol decided to try to establish a casino that would aid the fortunes of the city. Understanding that they could not fight that battle alone, they reached out to Danville and Portsmouth which are both struggling financially. Leadership in each of those communities came to Richmond asking to allow their communities to have local referendums to decide their city’s fate. They believe that the voters will be supportive. I tried to move the referendums to prior to Virginia taking action because I have serious doubts about their success. I believe that as serious studies are done, many will understand that there are as many negatives as positives for those communities.


The bill that was finally passed requires a serious impartial study be done prior to any referendums. That study will evaluate all factors, involving no preconceived conclusions. It will address what negatives and positives can be expected in those and the surrounding communities. The study will also consider sports betting, the expansion of so called “games of skills,” and expanded charity gaming. In addition, it will consider expansion proposals of those involved in horse racing. Finally, they will evaluate how any or all of those issues will affect our current lottery.

This study is expected to take most of the year. Hopefully, all will have a better understanding of what is best for Virginia’s future and not allow anyone to be blinded by dollar signs in our eyes.


With less fanfare, we made a couple of changes to the lottery this year. My good friend from Chesapeake, Senator Lionel Spruill and I offered similar legislation. To protect lottery winners from being victims of those who would prey on those winners by not requiring winners to be publicly identified. It passed.

Another bill that I proposed originated with a news story about some stores having a much higher percentage of winners than made sense. What they learned was that sometimes winners who wanted to evade paying child support or past due state taxes would take less money than they had won if someone at the store would cash in the ticket and pocket the difference. Currently, the lottery can only suspend the sale of tickets at that location. This would inconvenience customers. My bill would allow the lottery to recover the money from both the customer and seller without harming the business.

Frank Ruff represents Lunenburg in the state Senate. His email address is Sen.