Whereas much of the northeast is littered with brick and mortar casinos, the southeastern region of the U.S. (sans Florida) has retained a more conservative approach to gambling expansion. Virginia, in particular, yet has to give in to the attractiveness of flashy casinos and the lofty tax revenues that come with them. Instead, the state known as Old Dominion appears content with its modest gambling operation; one that includes pari-mutuel wagering and the lottery but limited options for poker players.
There has been virtually no mention of regulating online poker, or any form of poker for that matter, from state legislators, leading one to believe that Virginia’s populace is thoroughly uninterested in exploring the issue. And even if the public suddenly pushed government to weigh in on iGaming, Virginia would face a number of hurdles before the virtual first hand could be dealt.
Ironically, the state most commonly associated with firsts – first permanent English settlement, birthplace of the first U.S. president, and the first colony to found a representative form of government – places nearly last on our list of states most likely to legalize online gambling.
Can Players from Virginia Play Real-Money Online Poker?
Despite its perceived distaste for most gambling activities, Virginia’s law enforcement agencies haven’t activity pursued players that grind on unregulated sites, nor do the sites themselves restrict players from signing up. However, neither live nor online poker is regulated by the state, nor can we imagine it will it be in the foreseeable future.
Most European countries, and a few U.S. states, take a more relaxed approach to Internet gaming. In these regions, registering for and depositing on a real-money online poker site is a rather streamlined process. Better yet, it’s legal.
Is Online Poker Legal in Virginia?
The legal status of online poker in Virginia can only be inferred, as the law makes no mention of Internet gaming. It does, however, offer a broad and fairly comprehensive definition of illegal gambling, Section 18.2-325(1):
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 or chance, whether such game, contest or event, occurs or is to occur inside or outside the limits of this Commonwealth.
While the concept of an uncertain outcome is certainly one that could be interpreted a myriad of different ways, it’s difficult to argue that poker players aren’t, at least to a degree, slaves to outcomes unknown.
In terms of penalties, both operators and players are subject to criminal charges for participating in illegal gambling. As is often the case, the worst penalties are reserved for operators. The primary charge for operators,
Conducting illegal gambling operation is a Class 6 felony. Those who fulfill certain criteria, such as operating continuously for 30 days or more or grossing more than $2,000 in a single day face fines up to $20,000 and prison terms between one and ten years. (Section 10.2-328) In addition, game runners can also be charged with a bevy of misdemeanors.
As for players, being caught at an illicit game can result in a Class 3 misdemeanor, which by all accounts, is a hard slap on the wrist. Players can also be fined up to $500, but will not face jail time.
Virginia law does carve out an exception for social gambling, which states in Section 18.2.334:
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.
In other words, hosting a non-raked, self-dealt poker game is OK, in so long as it doesn’t run continually.
For a more in depth look at Virginia’s state codes, please refer to the “References” section .
Virginia Gambling History
Virginia’s populace wasn’t always as apathetic towards gambling as it is today. In fact, the first records of gambling activity in the state date back to before the first English settlers stepped foot on North American soil. Back then, Native Americans bet on a variety of games, including dice and sporting events, and they did so with vigor.
The Europeans brought their own brand of gambling to the New World, and despite loose measures to contain chance wagering, gambling spread like wildfire. In the 1800s, a second round of measures was taken to combat the spread of gambling, but once again, they failed to impede its growth.
Pari-mutuel gambling was introduced to the public in the 1920, and quickly took hold. Racing remains popular in the state to this day, but unfortunately, Virginia’s only live horseracing venue, Colonial Downs in New Kent, recently shuttered its doors .
After a decade of lobbying and political infighting, voters finally pushed through the state lottery in 1988. Today, the lottery is a half-a-billion dollar industry, much like it is in neighboring Maryland.
Regulated Gambling Options in Virginia
Virginia boasts a rather modest swatch of legal gambling options. Although pari-mutuel wagering and horse racing are technically legal, there are no longer any live racing venues present in the state. Charitable gambling exists in a limited capacity (bingo and raffles only), and residents of legal age are free to enjoy the lottery.
Commercial and tribal casinos are not present in Virginia. And while some have speculated that the construction of casinos in nearby Maryland may prompt officials to reconsider their stance, there has been no word on when or if this will happen.
The Future of Regulated Online Gambling in Virginia
State officials appear overly content to make do without the increased flexibility a robust casino operation affords. Unfortunately, without a brick and mortar foundation in place, it’s difficult to imagine Virginia ever venturing into the online gambling space. Furthermore, the public is generally indifferent towards gambling, and of those that do enjoy it, there are enough casino options across state lines to satiate their urges.
Maybe if the iGaming industries present in Delaware and New Jersey were breaking the bank, Virginia legislators would open the issue. But if anything, the U.S. regulated market is vastly underperforming initial revenue projections.
Sadly, it looks like Virginia’s poker players have been dealt a losing hand.