Virginia Lawmakers Classify Poker as Game of Skill

Posted on January 30th, 2017 by Jon Pineda
Virginia lawmaker poker skill Louise Lucas

Virginia lawmaker Louise Lucas has successfully redefined poker as a game of skill, theoretically laying out the blueprint to legalize the card game online. (Image: Steve Helber/Associated Press)

Virginia lawmakers recently voted to classify poker as a game of skill, a critical step to the state moving forward with legislation to authorize the card game online.

Senate Bill 1400, introduced by State Senator Louise Lucas (D-District 18), qualifies poker as a game of skill and therefore means that the card game cannot be grouped with traditional gambling formats. The legislation permits Virginians to participate in organized poker tournaments authorized by the state’s Department of Consumer Services or the Charitable Gaming Board.

Lucas’ SB 1400 was a divisive proposition, as the Senate voted 19 in favor to 19 opposed. In the event of such gridlock, the final say goes to chairman of the chamber. Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam (D) broke the tie by endorsing the bill.

The legislation doesn’t, however, call for the legalization of the card game on the internet. It also does nothing to permit any other table games.

Fantasy Becomes Reality

Virginia deciding that the outcome of a poker game is indeed based upon skill over luck provides considerable hope for future internet poker legislation.

Last March, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe (D) signed the Fantasy Contests Act into law, making the state the first in the US to fully authorize and regulate daily fantasy sports (DFS). The act says that DFS contest outcomes are based on the “relative knowledge of skill of the participants.”

Since DFS doesn’t specifically constitute gambling, it’s allowed to commence online. Now that poker shares a similar understanding in the minds of lawmakers, a forthcoming bill might be expected.

With 8.5 million residents, Virginia would potentially be the second-largest online poker market behind New Jersey.

Stripped of its gambling classification, a major hurdle in legalizing internet poker has seemingly been leveled. But the path to becoming the fourth state with online poker remains difficult due to gaming resistance from elected officials representing the state’s more conservative regions.

The Virginia General Assembly, the oldest continuous law-making body in the New World, is currently controlled by the Republican Party. The GOP occupies a total of 87 seats in the state Senate and House of Delegates, while Democrats hold just 53.

Poker Endorsed, Gambling Scrapped

Lawmakers in Richmond have long maintained anti-gambling policies.

Virginia is one of just six states that doesn’t have either commercial or tribal casinos. But now with land-based resorts peering in, for instance, the newly opened $1.4 billion MGM National Harbor, and money flowing out, some politicians in the Old Dominion are looking to ease its steadfast gaming restrictions.

In addition to successfully classifying poker as a skill-based undertaking, Lucas also motioned to the Senate Committee on General Laws and Technology to permit a to-be-determined number of brick-and-mortar casinos. That effort failed, to which Lucas responded, “We’re missing out on a real opportunity in this state by not taking advantage of this.”

Lucas has authored 10 casino bills in just the past four years. The Portsmouth Democrat says her constituents want gambling in order to help their fiscally stressed town.

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