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Being a native Virginian, there are a few things that I have come to accept in life. One of those is that live gambling will probably never be a thing in this state. That’s made being a poker player and fan difficult but not impossible.

When I heard earlier today that Senator Louise Lucas has filed a bill to legalize and regulate live poker, I initially rolled my eyes thinking it will be a complete waste of time. While I’d love to see live poker legal in my state, it seems more of a pipe dream than anything.

Of course, Daily Fantasy Sports seemed the same and the legislature managed to legalize that last year so anything is possible. So what will this new “poker bill” mean for Virginia and can it pass or shall we cue up Vince McMahon’s theme song?


Bill Seeks to Define Poker as a Skill Game – But Only Live

In the definitions section for the bill (18.2-325), poker is given an outright exemption under the definition for illegal gambling. The section states, “ Poker games shall be deemed games of skill, and nothing in this subdivision shall be construed to make any such game illegal gambling.”

We don’t need to go into the argument over whether poker is a skill game, as we’re just preaching to the choir. Considering that the state Supreme Court punted on this issue a couple of years ago, this is an important clarification.

Also, realize that Virginia is only seeking to legalize live poker and not online poker. If this bill passes, that doesn’t mean that PokerStars will automatically be able to setup shop in Virginia. That would require a separate bill.

Poker Coming to a Bingo Hall Near You?

Looking over the bill, something I found particularly interesting is that any establishment that is currently authorized to offer bingo can also offer poker. This is huge considering the number of local “bingo halls” throughout the state.

For example, I live about 10 minutes away from a local American Legion hall that offers bingo twice a week. Under this new law, they could also offer poker right away. In short order, the number of makeshift poker rooms would explode in the state.

The “Rake” May be a Bit Steep Though

Reading further into the bill, I noticed the following in terms of regulations that Charitable Gaming Board must adopt:

Require, as a condition of receiving a permit, that the applicant use a predetermined percentage of its gross receipts for (i) those lawful religious, charitable, community or educational purposes for which the organization is specifically chartered or organized or (ii) those expenses relating to the acquisition, construction, maintenance or repair of any interest in real property involved in the operation of the organization and used for lawful religious, charitable, community or educational purposes. The regulation may provide for a graduated scale of percentages of gross receipts to be used in the foregoing manner based upon factors the Board finds appropriate to and consistent with the purpose of charitable gaming.

So what that means players in Virginia is that a portion of every buy-in must be held for charity / organization running the games and for the operation and upkeep of the facility hosting the games.

What that will translate to in terms of dollars and cents will depend greatly on what percentage of gross receipts that the Board requires. However, whatever the cost, that will be transferred to players.

With that said, I still don’t see this being as big of an issue for many players due to the simple fact that it will still be cheaper to play poker in Virginia with potential extra rake than it will be to travel elsewhere and play. Myself personally, I have to drive 3.5 hours one way to get to the nearest casino that offers live poker.

Strong Emphasis on Poker Tournaments

One of the most interesting things about this legislation is that it dedicates a large section to the regulation of poker tournaments. Most of the time a bill will focus on regulating poker or online poker but not a specific area such as poker tournaments.

The level of detail given to regulating poker tournaments is indicative of the primary intent of this bill and is something that could make it a bit more acceptable by some in the legislature.

Poker tournaments don’t necessarily have the same stigma as standard poker cash games due to the fixed cost involved. You aren’t going to buy-in to a $100 freezeout poker tournament and lose $1,000. Your initial buy-in is the only thing that you stand to lose.

Also, a key clause in the regulations is that an organization that is allowed to offer poker can only run a poker tournament one calendar day per week. Using my local American Legion as an example, that would relegate the tournament to Friday night since they run bingo on Tuesday and Fridays. They would likely just run cash games on Tuesday, or they may just forego poker on Tuesday and just run a tournament on Friday.

If this bill turns out successful in Virginia, I can see it becoming a blueprint for other states wanting to regulate poker but facing roadblocks to cash games. Offering poker tournaments only may be a viable option to get poker’s foot in the door.

Hopeful, But Not Holding My Breath

When I first heard that Virginia had filed a bill to regulate live poker, my initial knee-jerk reaction was “file that in the no chance in hell” file. That was before I looked over the bill and saw the emphasis on poker tournaments.

Now, I am slightly more hopeful that the bill will pass but I am also well aware of my state’s history with gambling. Multiple attempts have been made in the past to legalize casinos and they have all failed.

Then again, had you asked me last year about the chances of DFS becoming regulated in this state, I would have said “no chance” as well. As such, I am a bit hopeful that the tide is turning in terms of live gambling acceptance and maybe we can get a game of skill regulated.

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James Guill

James Guill began his poker career in 2006, spending two years traveling the US tournament circuit. Since 2008, he has covered the game extensively for some of the biggest names in the industry. When not writing about the latest poker news, he can be found hunting for antique treasures in Central Virginia.