Legal Virginia Gambling Sites and Online Poker

va state sealVirginia is one of 10 hold-out states that do not yet have tribal or state-sanctioned casinos. Lawmakers have made efforts to get Virginia in on the national gambling boom but so far those efforts have met overwhelming resistance. A whole variety of people on both sides of the political spectrum oppose gambling for moral, religious and good-of-society reasons.

Meanwhile, bordering states continue to expand their own gambling options and increasing numbers of Virginians are heading across state borders to scratch their betting itch. MGM Resorts is in the process of building a massive resort casino just across the Potomac River from Alexandria. When construction is complete on that one, you can be sure to see plenty of Virginians willing to make the commute.

Best Virginia Betting Sites for Real Money

Fantasy Sports:

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Horse and Greyhound Betting:

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Games of Skill:

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Increasing pressure from bordering states may one day get lawmakers to revisit the issue. Even though they may be opposed to gambling, there’s a strong argument to be made that if large numbers of Virginians are already sending their money to other states, Virginia might as well see some of the benefit.

This is still a longshot proposition though and it doesn’t cover online gambling. Generally, states warm up to the idea of real-world betting before they even consider allowing operators to offer games over the internet. Anyone looking for online poker or casinos in Virginia will likely be waiting quite a while before anything changes in that regard.

The good news is you do have a few legal betting sites already operating in Virginia. Poker sites and casinos may be outlawed, but other forms of gambling are completely legal within the state thanks to favorable legislation at the federal and state levels.

Horse Racing

Virginia approved parimutuel horse wagering in 1988 and issued the first (and only) racetrack license in 1994. Colonial Downs opened in 1997 to great fanfare but its timing was unfortunate; the horse racing industry was already entering a downturn from which it has never recovered.

Colonial Downs is having a hard time these days. It only had 24 scheduled race days in 2014 and its owner is finding it difficult to justify the costs of keeping it open. Disputes between the track’s owner, the racing commission and racing teams didn’t help things at all. It was announced on October 15th of 2014 that Colonial Downs and all off-track betting locations would close on November 1st.

Fortunately for handicappers, it’s not necessary to visit a racetrack to place wagers. The state still permits online wagering at licensed websites.

In 2018, the Virginia legislature voted to allow Colonial Downs to install instant racing machines at the track and its off-track betting parlors. These machines are based on the outcomes of historic horse races in order to skirt anti-gambling laws, but look and function almost exactly like slot machines from the gambler’s point of view.

Opponents to the bill claimed it was essentially an expansion of gambling and would not serve the state or its residents. Those in support of the bill noted that Colonial Downs has been idle since 2014 and that a recent offer from an outside group to buy and reopen the track is dependent on the track being authorized to install gaming machines.

Fantasy Sports Sites

The online fantasy industry has exploded in recent years across the US. Surprisingly, most states have no problem whatsoever with online fantasy sports betting. Many people look at it as the natural extension of traditional fantasy leagues that have been around for years.

The Fantasy Sports Trade Association estimated that more than 41 million North Americans would participate in some form of fantasy league this year alone. Most of those people are still doing it the traditional way with their friends in the real world, but online fantasy is growing quickly.

Virginia formally legalized daily fantasy sports contests in 2016. The Fantasy Contests Act was signed into law by Governor Terry McAuliffe in February of that year with the intent of protecting consumers and bringing oversight to the industry. The bill requires from operators the following:

  • Register with the state and pay a $50,000 registration fee
  • Prevent anyone under 18 from participating
  • Prevent employees from competing in real money contests and sharing confidential information
  • Provide a self-exclusion mechanism for customers

Prior to the passage of the bill, fantasy sites operated unhindered in Virginia due to a combination of factors. One of these factors is State Statute § 18.2-333 that explains wagers placed by the participants in contests of speed or skill are not considered “gambling.” One could argue back and forth all day whether or not managing fantasy sports leagues counts as a contest of skill, but that doesn’t matter because federal legislation passed in 2006 specifically defines fantasy leagues as contests of skill.

Sports Betting in Virginia

There are no indications Virginia will legalize sports betting in the immediate future, but there is a realistic possibility that happens over the medium-term. A widely-circulated report published by Eilers & Krejcik gaming listed Virginia as one of the 14 states most likely to legalize sports betting within two years of a Supreme Court ruling against PASPA, which is the federal law currently preventing most states from regulating sports wagering.

Until that changes, however, there are no legal Virginia sportsbooks in operation today. Underground bookies and online betting provided by offshore providers are both easily available to state residents, but there are zero options for purely legal betting. In both cases, there are no consumer protection regulations in place and there is nothing you can do if you realize you have been cheated or find yourself a victim of theft.

The best alternative to sports betting in Virginia in the meantime is daily fantasy sports. Licensed fantasy sites that operate in Virginia are headquartered in the USA, subject to US law and are significantly safer than illegal offshore betting sites.

Online Poker

Online poker is treated as illegal in Virginia at this time. The state does not authorize or regulate the industry at all. Anyone wanting to play real money cards online must visit offshore poker sites that may or may not be safe.

However, there is some hope for the game. Two court cases in past years have sought to put to test the theory that poker is a game of skill. If a judge ever rules it to be a contest of skill, poker would automatically become legal in Virginia. Online poker would also have a high likelihood of being deemed legal.

One case involved a man who ran poker halls in Virginia up until 2010. The Portsmouth District Attorney ordered Charles Daniels to close his poker halls down and the man decided to fight it in court. The case received significant coverage in poker media and eventually went all the way to the Virginia Supreme Court.

The central question around which the case revolved was whether or not poker was a game of skill. Daniels, with the help of the Poker Player’s Alliance and WSOP winner Greg Raymer, argued that poker was just as much a contest of skill as any other game. Poker players across the state watched the case closely as the court’s ruling could potentially open the doors for poker in Virginia.

Here’s where the story fizzles. The Virginia Supreme Court threw out the case because it felt Charles Daniels didn’t have standing. A second case between George Pitsilides and the Virginia government looked more promising. He faced 3 felony charges for running a poker game and decided to fight the charges on the grounds that poker is a game of skill.

George’s case also fizzled in late 2013. Prosecutors agreed to drop the 3 felony charges, slap him with 2 misdemeanors and no jail time in return for surrendering nearly $280,000 in cash and gambling supplies.

More recently, a bill to classify poker as a game of skill made it further than any other such bill in Virginia. Senate Bill 1400 was introduced in January of 2017 and made it all the way through to a full vote in the Senate, which it passed. The bill then moved over to the house and died there.

This bill itself did not seek to legalize online poker, but its objective of classifying poker as a game of skill would do much to advance the likelihood of online poker becoming legal in Virginia. Remember, Virginia gaming law exempts games of skill from anti-gambling statutes.

People do still play online poker in Virginia – just not at local sites. Lots of people log on to offshore websites hosted in countries with less strict gaming laws. Technically, this activity is illegal but the state has no enforcement mechanism to track down violators. Additionally, those sites are unregulated and are not known for having great track records.

Games of Skill

As noted above, Virginia’s gaming laws exempt legitimate contests of skill from the definition of gambling. It is legal to wager on contests as long as (1) it is a legitimate contest of skill or speed and (2) you are one of the contestants. For example, it’s fine to bet on yourself in a game of golf or pay a fee to enter a bowling tournament. It would not be legal to place bets on other people involved in a tournament or competition.

This law extends to the internet as well. There is one major website dedicated to hosting online games of skill in which the participants can wager real money. You can play a whole variety of games such as Bejeweled, Spades and others against other people with money on the line.

Gambling Laws

Chapter 8, Title 18 of the Virginia Code covers the majority of the state’s gaming laws. There’s a lot to read through at that link but here’s a look at a few of the key pieces of text that set the stage for Virginia’s gambling landscape.

Definition of Illegal Gambling: § 18.2-325

The making, placing or receipt of any bet or wager in the 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 of chance, whether such game, contest or event occurs or is to occur inside or outside the limits of the Commonwealth.

Exception for games of skill: § 18.2-333

Nothing in this article shall be construed to prevent any contest of speed or skill between men, animals, fowl or vehicles, where participants may receive prizes or different percentages of a purse, stake or premium dependent upon whether they win or lose or dependent upon their position or score at the end of such contest.

Virginia is one of the few states in the Union that specifically mention internet gambling. § 18.2-326 was amended in 2011 to include the phrase “interstate gambling.” This section explains that anyone who participates in an unlawful gambling game is guilty of a Class 3 misdemeanor. The punishment for a Class 3 misdemeanor in Virginia is a fine of up to $500 and no jail time.

The penalty for participating in gambling is minor but Virginia is quite tough on those who operate “illegal gambling enterprises.” According to § 18.2-328, anyone who runs an unlawful gambling game that has been in continuous operation for more than 30 days or has gross revenue exceeding $2,000 in any single day is subject to 1 to 10 years in prison and fine of up to $20,000.

Social games are permitted in Virginia thanks to § 18.2-334. This section makes it legal to participate in a game of chance in a private residence as long as the residence isn’t commonly used for such games and the operator of the game does not take a profit.