Gaming on the ballot: Virginia approves four casinos; sports betting coming to three states

Gaming on the ballot: Virginia approves four casinos; sports betting coming to three states

  • Howard Stutz, CDC Gaming Reports
November 4, 2020 12:35 PM
  • Howard Stutz, CDC Gaming Reports
  • Other

The 2020 election was good for the gaming industry.

Ballot issues in six states were all headed toward approval by healthy margins Tuesday. Casinos will be added to four cities in Virginia, Nebraska’s racetracks will also add casinos, gaming options are being expanded in Colorado, and sports betting was approved in three states – Maryland, South Dakota, and Louisiana.

Global Market Advisors Director of Government Affairs Brendan Bussmann said legal gaming was the big winner Tuesday.

“Sports betting and casino gaming are mainstream and citizens across the country in six states further confirmed that tonight,” Bussmann said. “Gaming is a good economic engine for communities, and expansion of the industry will be a positive for these areas.”

Virginia will soon be home to four casinos after voters in four cities overwhelming approved ballot referendums in their communities. All four cities have lined up casino operating partners: Bristol with Hard Rock International, Danville with Caesars Entertainment, Portsmouth with Rush Street Gaming, and Norfolk with the Pamunkey Indian Tribe.

In a statement, Caesars CEO Tom Reeg said the company is looking forward to opening a $400 million hotel-casino in Danville by 2023. The property is expected to have 300 hotel rooms and provide $34 million annually in gaming tax revenue to the city.

“We look forward to fulfilling the trust the voters have placed in us by bringing 1,300 good-paying jobs, tourism dollars, and economic development to the city, and we are incredibly excited to begin construction,” Reeg said in a statement.

“We would also like to express our deep gratitude to the many respected business owners and citizens who shared the positive impact this resort will bring to the community with their customers, friends, and neighbors,” Reeg added. “We are pleased to be welcomed into the Danville community and look forward to a long, successful future.”

Rendering of the Pamunkey Tribe’s planned casino in Norfolk, Virginia

Bristol had the largest margin of victory, with 72% of the vote. Danville had a 69% favorable vote, Portsmouth had 67%, and Norfolk 65%.

“The residents of Norfolk have made it clear that they are excited about a resort and casino coming to the Mermaid City,” said Jay Smith, spokesman for the Norfolk Resort & Casino. The waterfront resort and casino will be built on the Elizabeth River next to Harbor Park.

“We are moved beyond words by the tremendous display of support we’ve received from the Norfolk community,” said Robert Gray, Chief of the Pamunkey Indian Tribe.

Bussmann said the residents of the four communities “have spoken loud and clear” in favor of casino gaming.

“Virginia may be a sign of things to come for other states in the South that have discussed gaming over the years,” Bussmann said. “It passed one of the biggest gaming packages in the last legislative session and looks to be a strong market for the region. Look for other states to follow suit of taking gaming to the ballot in the near term.”

Sports betting

The approval in the three states means sports betting could be available in half of the U.S. states by the end of 2021.

“Tonight’s election results overwhelming demonstrate constituent’s strong support for legalized sports betting across the country,” said sports betting consultant Sara Slane. “I expect this trend to continue as legislators realize the economic benefits of legalization and competition intensifies across the country to recapture lost revenue to neighboring states with sports betting.”

The Maryland issue, which had a 67% approval, was an advisory question. The state legislature will now hammer out the details and regulations. FanDuel and DraftKings financially backed passage of the measure, which would also benefit MGM Resorts International, Caesars Entertainment, Churchill Downs, Golden Entertainment, and Penn National Gaming.

Voters in 55 out of Louisiana’s 64 parishes approved sports betting, including the markets that house the state’s casinos.

In South Dakota, the sports betting measure was backed by the Deadwood Gaming Association and allows the city’s casinos – the only gaming market in the state – to add retail sports betting locations. Analysts expect South Dakota lawmakers will eventually add mobile sports wagering.

Nebraska

Nebraska citizens voted on three initiatives that would amend the state’s constitution to allow casino games – defined as “games of chance” – at state-licensed horse racing tracks in Omaha, Lincoln, Grand Island, Columbus, and South Sioux City; create a gaming regulatory agency; and authorize a 20% gaming tax on the new casinos’ revenues.

Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts opposed passage, as did billionaire Warren Buffet, who is from Omaha.

Bussmann said the vote in Nebraska hurts the casino market in Council Bluffs, Iowa, which is located just across the Missouri River from Omaha. He said 70%-plus of the patrons come from Nebraska.

“Under the ‘all games of chance,’ this may be one of the single largest expansions of gaming, especially one done through the initiative process,” Bussmann said. “The question that remains is how far will Nebraska expand under these parameters to develop casinos, allow tribes to compact with the state, and allow sports betting.”

Colorado

The passage of Amendment 77 allows casinos in Central City, Black Hawk, and Cripple Creek to remove wagering limits ($100 on a single wager) and offer other games like baccarat, keno, and the big six wheel.

Howard Stutz is the executive editor of CDC Gaming Reports. He can be reached at hstutz@cdcgaming.com. Follow @howardstutz on Twitter.