Differences in House and Senate bills to legalize casinos by referendum may not be resolved until the final days of the current legislative session, some Virginia lawmakers said Thursday.
House Bill 4 and Senate Bill 36 advanced out of each respective chamber Tuesday and will now go through the other chamber’s legislative committees. The measures would allow residents of Bristol, Danville, Norfolk, Portsmouth and Richmond to have referenda on the casino question.But resolving stark differences in proposed gaming tax rates and other issues may take until March, according to state Del. Terry Kilgore, R-Gate City.
Kilgore, Sen. Todd Pillion, R-Abingdon, and Sen. Ben Chafin, R-Lebanon, participated in a conference call with the news media Thursday. They also discussed legislation to increase the minimum wage, the potential impact of clean-energy legislation on the Virginia City hybrid energy power plant in Wise County, controversial gun regulations and other issues.
Asked about the timing to finalize the casino bills, Kilgore reiterated his pre-session prediction.
“It’s all headed to the last two weeks — probably the last 10 days of session,” Kilgore said. “That’s when everything is going to be moving so fast. To be quite honest, this could be the last day of session on the casino, the minimum wage; those big issues are going to be decided on Friday and Saturday the 6th and 7th of March.”
The Senate bill proposes a much higher tax rate on casino gaming revenues — 27% on the first $150 million, 31% on the second $150 million and 40% on all revenues above $300 million — compared to a House bill’s 15%, 20% and 28% tax rates, with a tiered system based on casino investment value.
“The tax rate the Senate has put forth is too high,” Pillion said.
A state Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission study considered three rates and based most of its revenue calculations on a 27% tax rate.
“The House version rewards those who invest more. We’re hopeful we’ll get closer to the House version as we move forward in the next 25 days or so,” Kilgore said. “The House basically followed, to a degree, the JLARC report at the high end. We tasked JLARC to go out and do a study and look at other states and what others are doing. We don’t want to tax ourselves out where we can’t bring these jobs to Bristol or Danville or Norfolk, Portsmouth, wherever we’re going.”
Hard Rock Bristol Resort and Casino developer Jim McGlothlin previously said a lower tax rate would enable those involved to invest more of those gaming revenues into a project that also is to include a 500-room hotel, entertainment space, conference and convention center, shopping and dining amenities.
Chafin compared the proposed tax differences to minimum wage bills, which also emerged from each chamber.
“The House [minimum wage] bill goes straight to $15 — which we can’t do. The Senate bill is graduated based on pro-rating the average median income from Northern Virginia versus other communities like Southwest Virginia to keep the annual increases from being so steep,” Chafin said.
“The same thing needs to occur with regards to the casino bills. In Southwest Virginia, we need greater investment, and we need to incentivize those investments and not penalize them by having higher taxes right off the get-go. We think the conferees will work to try to convey those ideas into the bill,” Chafin said.