BRISTOL — Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam signed legislation Wednesday allowing the Virginia Lottery Board to sell tickets via the internet.
Northam signed 32 bills Wednesday, including Senate Bill 922, which allows lottery officials to provide internet sales. It is the first of several pieces of gaming legislation to work its way through the General Assembly and reach the governor’s desk.
The bill was approved 33-6 by the state Senate and 73-26 by the House of Delegates and becomes effective July 1.
“We appreciate the overwhelming bipartisan support in the General Assembly,” Lottery Board spokesman John Hagerty wrote in an email. “This legislation benefits the consumer and enables the lottery, just like any business, to meet its customers where they are. It makes the lottery relevant for consumers who expect to be able to do everything on their smartphones.”
Virginia will become the seventh state to offer online lottery sales, according to a 2019 gaming report by Virginia’s Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission. Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan, New Hampshire and Pennsylvania all began offering those products within the last three years, the report states.
Carried by Sen. Tommy Norment, R-James City, the bill aims to expand lottery sales in the wake of likely approval of bills allowing a casino to open in five cities, including Bristol, if approved by voters in a public referendum.
Virginia lottery sales have grown an average of 5% annually for the past 10 years, reaching $2.3 billion and contributing nearly $650 million to public education in fiscal 2018-19.
The 2019 JLARC report projects that casinos and other gaming options could result in a 3.6% decrease — $105 million — in lottery sales in 2024, the first year all five casinos are projected to begin operation. It further forecasts a $170 million impact from 2024 to 2028, with lottery sales expected to ultimately return to 5% annual growth.
In 2018, Michigan reported $125 million in internet lottery sales. A similar showing in Virginia could offset any impact by gamblers who choose to spend their money at a casino instead of on lottery tickets.
Local lawmakers, who have universally supported legislation to allow casinos by referenda, were divided on this bill.
Dels. Israel O’Quinn, R-Bristol, Will Morefield, R-N. Tazewell, and Jeff Campbell, R-Marion, voted against the legislation while Dels. Terry Kilgore, R-Gate City, and Will Wampler, R-Abingdon, voted for it.
In the Senate, both Sen. Todd Pillion, R-Abingdon, and Sen. Ben Chafin, R-Lebanon, voted for the final bill.
The casino legislation remains in the hands of a conference committee comprised of five members from the House and five from the Senate, including Sen. Pillion.