Important VA Notes
- VA poker players play for real money legally at offshore sites
- No bills in state legislature to legalize internet poker
- All recent bills to legalize casinos have not been passed
- There are no commercial or Indian casinos in the state
- Lottery, pari-mutuel, racetracks, charitable gaming allowed
- 0 never
With effect from April 2011, operating an online gambling site has been specifically made illegal in Virginia by amending the code. Online gambling is presumed to include online poker as well. However, poker players in Virginia can legally play at regulated offshore websites for real money.
Future Outlook of Online Poker in Virginia – Estimated date of legalization: 2020-2021
The following graph tracks our expected legislation of online poker in Virginia on a state law level. It is currently already legal on a Federal level. This graph monitors the current rise or fall of expected legalization.
Following on the footsteps of Washington, which legalized sports betting...
Two new sports betting bills have passed the Virginia Senate Committee on...
There is a small window open for online poker, despite the tightening of the laws in 2011. Games of skill are specifically exempt from the definition of illegal gambling under Section 18.2-333 of the Code of Virginia which states, “Nothing in this article shall be construed to prevent any contest of speed or skill between men, animals, fowl or vehicles, where participants may receive prizes or different percentages of a purse, stake or premium dependent upon whether they win or lose or dependent upon their position or score at the end of such contest.” If poker is accepted as a game of skill through judicial pronouncement, then under existing laws online poker would presumably be legal. A possible snag could be in the form of the Federal UIGEA, whose current interpretation is that a state would have to specifically pass laws permitting regulated intrastate online gambling for the activity to be legal there.
Attempts have been made to try and legalize poker through the game of skill route as reported in the Washington Post [A]. In 2010, the Portsmouth Commonwealth Attorney Earle Mobley began shutting down illegal poker halls. Charles Daniels, the owner of one of the poker halls, went to court. In his defense Daniels brought in Greg Raymer, a professional poker player, to explain to the Portsmouth judge why poker is a game of skill. The judge concurred with the skill aspect, but stated that since the outcome is uncertain in poker it falls within the definition of illegal gambling as per the Virginia code. Daniels went to the Virginia Supreme Court. In March 2013, Justice S. Bernard Goodwyn ruled [B] that the law is not vague and it allows for skill to be considered. However, since Daniels had not been charged with any violation the judge refrained from ruling whether poker is a game of skill.
Steve Emmert, an appeals court expert, opined that for the court to judge on this specific issue someone will have to be charged with felony for illegal poker gambling. He said, “The last thing most people want to do is risk criminal prosecution to prove a point.” However, such a case became a reality in 2011 as reported in PilotOnline.com [C]. George Pitsilides, a Virginia Beach restaurant owner, was charged with three felony counts of illegal gambling for running poker tournaments. He is facing a trial and a minimum three years in prison if he loses. His attorney, James Broccoletti, plans to play the poker being a game of skill card. The court ruling in this case, if favorable, could be a game changer for poker and online poker in Virginia. Pitsilides pleaded to a lesser penalty in late 2013.
Poker as a game of skill route was attempted through direct legislation as well but without success. There is also a movement from public interest groups for legalizing poker in Virginia.
Current Gambling Laws in Virginia
The bulk of the gambling laws are contained in Chapter 8 Crimes Involving Morals and Decency of Title 18.2 Crimes and Offenses Generally of the Code of Virginia.
Section 18.2-325(1), which defines illegal gambling states, “Illegal gambling means the making, placing or receipt, of any bet or wager in this Commonwealth of money or other thing of value, made in exchange for a chance to win a prize, stake or other consideration or thing of value, dependent upon the result of any game, contest or any other event the outcome of which is uncertain or a matter of chance, whether such game, contest or event, occurs or is to occur inside or outside the limits of this Commonwealth.”
Section 18.2-326 provides the penalty for illegal gambling. In general, any person who illegally gambles or engages in interstate gambling shall be guilty of a Class 3 misdemeanor. There are stated exceptions to this. Operators of illegal gambling ventures shall be guilty of Class 6 felony and shall face a punishment of a fine of not more than $20,000 and imprisonment of not less than one year and not more than ten years.
State lottery, horse racing and charitable gambling when conducted according to law are specifically exempt from illegal gambling. State Lottery laws are covered under Chapter 40 of Title 58.1 [D], horse racing laws are covered under Chapter 29 of Title 59.1 [E] and charitable gambling laws are covered under Chapter 8 of Title 18.2-340 [F].
Under Section 11-14 of the Virginia Code gambling contracts are void and under Section 11-15 monies lost in gambling can be recovered from the winner through civil action suit.
As reported in Nvdaily.com [G], in 2011 Bill H1584 [H] and Bill HB 1700 [I] were introduced in the Virginia House and Bill S 1195 [J] was introduced in the Virginia Senate. The objective of these bills was to outlaw online gambling through making purchases of things, including Internet time, which could be then wagered. All three bills were passed in April 2011, and the following amendment was made to the Virginia Code. The addition to the definition of illegal gambling under Section 18.2-325 included:
“For the purposes of this subdivision and notwithstanding any provision in this section to the contrary, the making, placing, or receipt of any bet or wager of money or other thing of value shall include the purchase of a product, Internet access, or other thing, which purchase credits the purchaser with free points or other measurable units that may be (i) risked by the purchaser for an opportunity to win additional points or other measurable units that are redeemable by the purchaser for money or (ii) redeemed by the purchaser for money, and but for the free points or other measurable units, with regard to clauses (i) and (ii), the purchase of the product, Internet access, or other thing (a) would be of insufficient value in and of itself to justify the purchase or (b) is merely incidental to the chance to win money.”
History of Gambling in Virginia
Land Based Poker in Virginia
Poker at home (described as private residences) in Virginia has been exempted from the definition of illegal gambling under Section 18.2-334. The section states, “Nothing in this article shall be construed to make it illegal to participate in a game of chance conducted in a private residence, provided such private residence is not commonly used for such games of chance and there is no operator as defined in subsection 4 of Section 18.2-325.” Operator includes, “any person, firm or association of persons, who conducts, finances, manages, supervises, directs or owns all or part of an illegal gambling enterprise, activity or operation”.
If a rake is taken in any form, then the game becomes illegal as David Engleton discovered when the police raided his Virginia Beach home after the games were staked out by undercover operators.
Though charitable gambling is permitted in a regulated manner in Virginia, poker is not included in the list of games that are allowed. Therefore, charity poker tournaments are illegal in Virginia.
Live poker is illegal in Virginia. In January 2011, Senator J. Chapman Petersen introduced SB 849 with the objective of declaring poker as a game of skill and removing it from the purview of illegal gambling. “Poker games shall be deemed games of skill and nothing in this subdivision shall be construed to make any such game illegal gambling”, was proposed to be added to Section 18.2-325(1). Within two weeks of its introduction the state Senate Committee of Courts of Justice Committee voted 14-1 [K] to “pass by indefinitely” the bill, effectively killing it.
Gambling Laws in Virginia
The forms of gambling permitted in Virginia are pari-mutuel wagering, racetrack betting, state lottery and charitable gaming.
There are no live casinos in Virginia, not even tribal casinos or river boat casinos. However, Virginia residents can easily go to neighboring states to gamble in casinos. The recent success of live casinos in Maryland led to a new attempt to legislate regulated casino gambling in Virginia. This would prevent Virginia revenues from being spent in other states and also generate funds for infrastructure development.
In July 2012, L. Louise Lucas introduced bill SB 687 [L] in the Virginia Senate. The bill sought to create the Virginia Casino Gaming Commission as the licensing body for casino gaming. It provided for a licensing and regulatory scheme for casino gaming and provided penalties for violations of the proposed casino gambling laws. Under the bill casino gambling would be limited to localities in which at least 50% of the land area was exempt from local real property taxation. The bill was referred to the senate committee on General Laws and Technology. In January 2013, the committee passed by the bill indefinitely with a 15-0 vote, thereby ending this attempt to bring casino gambling to Virginia.
Senator Louise Lucas has again filed a casino gambling bill in the state of Virginia for the 2014 General Assembly session. The bill was very similar as the last, but she was hoping to get more support now that Massachusetts has passed a bill to build brick and mortar casinos which will take revenue away from Virginia by people going to Massachusetts to gamble. This bill died in the state legislature in early 2014, and no other piece of legislation has been introduced since.
Horse racing laws are covered under Chapter 29 of Title 59.1. The Virginia Racing Commission [M] is vested with control of all horse racing with pari-mutuel wagering. Since 1997, the racing took place at the Colonial Downs race track in New Kent County, but it closed its doors in late 2014 due to competition from neighboring states. Betting is permitted at designated off track betting centers as well.
Richmond Sunlight [N] reported that a bill (SB 268) had been introduced in the Virginia Senate to allow wagering on historical horse racing in 2012. However, the bill failed. Historical horse racing is a form of pari-mutuel wagering in which the players are wagering among themselves. The track does not have any financial interest in whether a player wins or not but makes its money from the takeout. The wagers are placed through the totalizer system.
The Virginia State Lottery was created in 1987. State Lottery laws are covered under Chapter 40 of Title 58.1. The lottery is conducted under the oversight of the State Lottery Department [O]. The lottery offers draw and scratcher games and subscribes to the national Mega Millions and Powerball jackpots.
Under Section 58.1-4007.2 lottery tickets cannot be sold directly to consumers over the Internet. However, the Internet can be used to relay information relating to sales made to purchasers by licensed sales agents or for the sale by the Department of prepaid subscriptions for the purchase of lottery tickets or shares for subsequent prize drawings.
Charitable gambling laws are covered under Chapter 8 of Title 18.2-340. The present charitable gambling laws were enacted in 1995. The Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services is vested with control of all charitable gaming in Virginia and the Charitable Gaming Board [P] is the designated regulatory authority. Up to January 1, 2014 only raffles, pull tabs, seal cards, bingo and instant bingo games are permitted. On January 1, 2014 network bingo was added to the list.
Author: Joseph Falchetti (twitter)
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