Despite massive gambling expansion over the last few years, online poker is an unregulated and mostly illegal activity in Virginia. However, lawmakers will create a carveout for home games if legislation in the House of Delegates is passed.
Del. Glenn Davis, a Republican representing Virginia’s 84th district, introduced legislation at the start of the session that would give some internet poker games an exemption to illegal gambling statutes.
HB 77 would allow for internet poker games to take place in private residences. However, the residence’s primary function can’t be to hold those games. Furthermore, nobody can profit from those games.
The proposal would also allow for other “games of chance” to take place in a private residence as long as nobody is profiting.
Lawmakers referred the bill to the Committee on General Law and assigned it to Subcommittee #3. It is the same subcommittee that voted against legislation that would have lifted the in-state college sports betting ban.
The rise of online poker apps
There are only seven states that have legalized online poker. With West Virginia and Connecticut yet to roll out a product, Nevada, New Jersey, Delaware, Pennsylvania and Michigan are the only states with an operational market.
Legislators in most states with gambling expansion in the works are focused on sports betting and casino gaming.
After all, operators make the most money from those games. From a revenue perspective, both online and brick-and-mortar poker rooms generate a fraction of what other games do.
But just because operators have less of an incentive to spread the games doesn’t eliminate the demand for it.
As a result, poker players have shifted to unregulated, offshore online poker sites to continue playing. However, a more recent trend finds poker players joining clubs that play for real money through apps on their phones.
People known as “agents” organize these games. Agents serve as both gatekeepers and bookkeepers for the games they spread.
Instead of depositing an offshore site, poker players can join these clubs and send their agent cash directly. If they want to withdraw, they must also go through their agent to receive funds.
Legislators would legalize these types of poker clubs by passing HB 77. Of course, that is assuming those running the clubs are not financially benefitting from it.
State of poker in VA
There are few states in the country that have fewer options for poker players than Virginia.
That will change soon as the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino is scheduled to open in Bristol in the second quarter of this year. But for now, the selection is slim.
There are no legal brick-and-mortar poker rooms currently and there are no regulated online options either.
If a Virginian is looking to play cards, they’ll have to drive into a bordering state. However, even several of the neighboring states lack a thriving poker market.
Both Tennessee and Kentucky lack legal poker rooms and North Carolina only has one at Harrah’s Cherokee. While Harrah’s does have a sizable room, it is in the southwest area of North Carolina, making it a long ride from anywhere in Old Dominion.
It’s a little easier for those living in the western part of the state near Roanoke or in the north near Washington, D.C. Those residents can make the trip into West Virginia or north into Maryland for a plethora of poker options.
The Greenbrier Casino is likely the closest West Virginia operator for most Virginians, located just 90 minutes northwest of Roanoke. While MGM National Harbor is a stone’s throw away from Alexandria, just on the other side of the Potomac River.
With Northern Virginia in close proximity to high-end gaming options in Maryland, it’s no surprise that all four proposed VA casinos will be closer to the state’s southern border.
Timeline for VA casinos
|City||Casino||Projected Opening Date|
|Bristol||Hard Rock Casino and Resort Bristol||Mid-2022 (temporary casino), 2023 (full casino)|
|Danville||Caesars Casino Resort Danville||Q4, 2023|
|Norfolk||HeadWaters Resort & Casino||Q4, 2023|
|Portsmouth||Rivers Portsmouth Casino Resort||Early 2023|