Casino legislation passes first hurdle, but challenges remain

RICHMOND, Va. - Could there really be two casinos in Hampton Roads?

Right now, debate continues on proposals to build casinos in Norfolk and Portsmouth and for now everything remains on the table.

The Senate Committee on General Laws and Technology voted to approve a bill dealing with casino legislation on Monday. The bill allows for the possibility of five casinos to be built in Virginia - in Norfolk, Portsmouth, Bristol, Danville and Richmond.

Related: Legislation would permit Pamunkey Indians to open resort casinos in Virginia 

It would require referendum elections in each of the cities to see if voters would support the idea. The state wouldn't be able to issue a license for a casino until July 2020.

In addition, it calls for the state to study the issue in order to make the best plan moving forward.

"It's not about being against gambling. It's about making sure we know where we're going so we can make the best deal and best protections for our citizens," Secretary of Finance Aubrey Layne said of the study.

Hampton Roads supporters have been going back and forth to Richmond over the last two weeks to make their case. Lawmakers came up with a compromise over the weekend before Monday's vote. The legislation now heads to the Senate Finance Committee.

"We need this to survive," Portsmouth Mayor John Rowe told lawmakers on Friday.

Meanwhile, the Pamunkey Indian Tribe says they are now exploring state approval in addition to seeking a federal distinction to build a casino near Harbor Park in Norfolk.

"We intend to purse the federal process, but if the Commonwealth is ready to move forward with commercial gaming, we cannot just stand by and let others move forward without seeking that same opportunity," said Chief Robert Gray.

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