No dull moments as Virginia embrace casino-style gaming

It was all fun and games at the grand opening of Rosie’s Gaming Emporium in Richmond as over a thousand people formed a long, cheerful line along the front of the once-abandoned Kmart.

Music blared through various speakers in the hall as two racehorses paced around the parking lot. There was a bugle call by a man in fox-hunting garb as attendees cheered—with dignitaries urging the crowd to “have some fun!”.

Annie Randolph, 64, a retired health-care worker screamed “Virginia is boring”, as she lobbied to get inside. Having arrived, more than two hours early, she was thrilledto finally be able to have fun gambling without travelling to Las Vegas or Maryland.

Though online casinos like are gaining more popularity amongst gamblers—as it grant players access to their favourite mobile bookmakers, poker rooms and casinos whenever they are—Randolph said while letting out a laugh that gambling keeps her from doing housework.

Currently, the General Assembly hasn’t legalized the construction of casinos in Virginia—a debate that will rage on till next year’s legislative session.

But casino-style gambling—in the form of electronic games that arelike slot machines—has come to stay in the Old Dominion.

This is connected to an effort by the legislature to resuscitate Virginia’s once-mighty horse racing industry. Last year, while authorizing a deal to reopen the Colonial Downs track in New Kent County, the General Assembly gave the green-light for off-track facilities featuring “historic horse racing” machines.

However, they aren’t exactly slot machines—as lawmakers are still battling on whether to legalize them or not. Each machine in the Emporium taps into a database of about 90,000 previous horse races and lets playersview blind statistics, then wager on unnamed horses that might win.

But if that process is too lengthy, you could just simply hit a button and let colourful cherries, 7s and other symbols spin around and line up. Most people who play typically opt for this option and judging from the Rosie’s Gaming Emporium—that hasopened its doors to residents around the state—it’s bound to become a major hit.

The first Rosie’s launched in April at the New Kent track between Richmond and Williamsburg, and in May, it had completed its first full month in operation. The facility attracted more than $58 million in wagers placed on its 600 machines.

While a much smaller Rosie’s has opened in the Roanoke area, another one is undergoing construction in Hampton—with several other regionsyearning for their own franchises, including Dumfries in Prince William County. I

In total, the General Assembly approvedabout 3,000 of the machines state-wide—and the Rosie’s which opened in Richmond recentlyhas 700 of them.

This is a steepdecline for Virginia where horse racing backdates to Colonial times. But the state is one of only 10 in the country to protest casino-style gambling. Now, triggered by the economic relevance, changing demographics and the success of the MGM National Harbour casino in nearby Maryland, the legislature seems to be warming up to the idea.

Bristol, Portsmouth and Danville— three struggling communities around the state—have petitioned for permission to legalize casinos, and the General Assembly have promised to look into the matter come January 2020.         

Also, the Pamunkey Indian tribe are seeking to build a casino through its federal status, with massive support for lawmakers in the area. According to the nonpartisan Virginia Public Access Project, more than a dozen gambling interests have hired Richmond lobbyists over the past two years.

But this sudden rush has raised some concerns, as there are fears that due to the predominately impoverished population, introducing gambling centres might worsen the situation.

“I’m afraid of us doing too much, and it appears the locations are predominantly African American areas that are close to impoverished communities,” said Del. Lamont Bagby (D-Henrico), head of the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus in a report.

Bagby said a lot of things needs to be considered before introducing such ventures into any community and feasibility studies into effectively containing addictions needs to be done.

“What we need to focus on now is what does gaming in the commonwealth look like... and what is going too far?” Bagbysaid. “I’m hoping to get more information related to the impact on individuals living paycheck to paycheck, and I would also like to have some conversations about making sure support is there” for those with gambling addictions.

The state’s Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission is currently working on a study about casino gambling, due in December.

Racing resumes at Colonial Downs early next month, and between the track and the Rosie’s facilities, Colonial Downs is investing $300 million and creating 900 jobs around the state. It has pledged $25 million in yearly state tax revenue and $17 million annually to the localities where it operates.

The new Rosie’s and its creation of 225 jobs will help revive a hopeless strip of pawnshops, used-car lots and motels scattered on the southern side of the James River, according to Richmond officials.

At the grand opening, the Colonial Downs group gave out large checks to several charities, including $10,000 to Feed More, a group that fights hunger, $10,000 to Goodwill, which hosted a job fair to recruit Rosie’s workers and $25,000 to a nearby Miles Jones Elementary School.

“We are so appreciative of all the great things they’ve done for us so far… We need the resources” said Shaw, who used an earlier instalment to purchase 6,048 books and plans to buy computers next, with Colonial Downs pledging $500,000 to the school over the next five years.


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