Virginia: In the vanguard of gaming expansion By Ken Adams, CDC Gaming Reports February 28, 2021 at 8:30 pm Virginia is a state on the move, reinventing itself for the 21st century. The changes are startling. Statues of Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee and confederate flags are vanishing. Urbanization, technology companies, Amazon, casinos and sports betting are popping up all over the Commonwealth. Two years ago, it seemed that the current round of casino gaming expansion had run its course. Massachusetts, Maryland and New York had recently added new casinos, but nothing else was on the horizon. The last un-casino-ed jurisdictions were not good candidates; the deep South, Utah, and Hawaii are the last bastions of anti-casino sentiment in the nation. Sports betting was the only exception. In 2018, the Supreme Court ruled that a federal ban on sports betting was illegal. In the wake of that decision, sports betting has become the growth segment of gaming. Twenty-plus states have authorized sport wagering since 2018. In January, the handle nationally was about $4 billion. In 2018 with only Nevada taking bets, the monthly handle rarely exceeded $500 million. The driving force behind handle is the ease of access to wagering opportunities in many states. Mobile and online sports betting accounts for as much as 90% of all wagers where they are available. The obvious popularity of sports betting is also renewing interest in the expansion of casino gaming, even where it once seemed improbable, the deep South. Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Texas and Virginia are in play in 2021. Of those five states, Virginia is currently the most interesting. Four or five years ago, no gambling except the state lottery was legal in the Commonwealth. However, like most southern states, Old Dominion is trying to adapt to changes in culture and business and leap into the 21st century. The state’s motto is: “Virginia: Open for Business” and in 2021, that includes gaming. The Commonwealth has gone from never-in-my-backyard to a model for the future of gaming. Besides the lottery, Virginians can now bet on horse races live, or on historical racing machines at the Colonial Downs racetrack and at four Rosie’s scattered around the state. Colonial Downs is authorized 3,000 games and each of Rosie’s has over 500. As of January, mobile sports betting is alive and well in Old Dominion. DraftKings, FanDuel, BetMGM and William Hill are the licensed operators. More will follow and casino operators are certain to be granted sports betting licenses. There are no casinos yet, but they are on the way. Casino gaming in Virginia has been in making since March 2019. The state legislature authorized casinos in five cities, conditioned on the approval of the voters of the state. In November 2020, the voters approved in Bristol, Danville, Norfolk and Portsmouth. Richmond is in the process of joining the other four cities. A casino in Richmond is generating more interest than in other cities. Six companies have offered to build a casino there. The proposals range from $350 million to $650 million. The proposals are different, and each would be located in its own jurisdiction. Each bidder claims to be the best qualified and able to bring a unique resort to Richmond that no other company could match. The bidders are as interesting as their bids. The Pamunkey Indian Tribe is bidding on more than one city in Virginia. It is based in the state; indeed, it claims a 10,000-year-old history in the region. The Pamunkey are offering to spend $350 million to build a casino in Richmond. The Poarch Band of Creek Indians’ home is Alabama. It operates casinos in Alabama, Florida, Pennsylvania and the Caribbean mostly under its Wind Creek brand. The tribe’s proposal is for a $541 million resort. Bally’s, formerly Twin River Resorts based in Rhode Island, was founded in 2004. It now operates 12 properties in seven states; its proposal is a $650 million resort. The Cordish Companies was founded as a real estate developer. It has branched into a casino-development company, sometimes partnering with Hard Rock and in other locations under its own brand, Live! The Corish resort in Richmond would cost $600 million. Golden Nugget is a subsidiary of Fertitta Entertainment, operator of Landry’s Restaurants and Golden Nugget Casinos. Golden Nugget operates five casinos in four states. The Golden Nugget’s bid is for a $400 million property. The Nugget claims it understands better than any other operator what size resort to build in any city. The final bidding company was formed specifically for the Richmond bid. It is a combination of a black-owned media company, Urban One, and Colonial Downs. The combined entity is offering to spend $517 million. It lays claim to priority treatment. Urban One is a minority-owned company and it reflects the ethnic makeup of the area better than the other bidders. Its partner, Colonial Downs, is just trying to add one more location to the four Rosie’s and the racetrack it presently operates in Virginia. Once the city council chooses an operating company, the voters will have to approve in November. That will put Richmond about a year behind the other casinos to be built in the state, but that has not lessened the interest. The Commonwealth of Virginia is reflective of the times. The companies bidding are part of the new wave of gaming entities. They are 21st century companies, formed to take advantage of the new landscape of a new century. And like the older 20th century gaming companies Wynn, Sands, MGM, Boyd, Penn and Caesars, they want to take advantage of mobile/online sports and other gambling. We are entering the decade of mobile gambling. Virginia and Richmond are bringing that trend into clearer focus.