Bill still alive in Senate

Virginia House panel rejects proposal to allow cruise ship casinos in state waters

Reading time 1:35 min

A panel in the Virginia House of Delegates voted against a proposal to permit large cruise ships to activate their casinos within state waters. The decision was made in a 5-3 vote on Tuesday, highlighting concerns raised by residents of Yorktown about the potential increase in cruise ship traffic along the Virginia coast.

Although the legislation faced opposition in the House subcommittee responsible for gambling and alcohol matters, the proposal is currently progressing through the Virginia Senate, meaning the bill isn't fully dead.

At the House subcommittee meeting, Delegate Paul Krizek, D-Alexandria, expressed his opposition, emphasizing the deviation from Virginia's traditional referendum process for casino gambling.

"This is about gambling in Virginia waters before they go out into international waters. Frankly, I don’t understand why it’s such an important thing for the cruise industry to have that couple of hours headstart on their gambling," Krizek remarked, as reported by Virginia Mercury.

Supporters of the bill, including Princess Cruise Lines, which frequents Norfolk, argued that it would boost tourism and revenue in the Hampton Roads area. Former Senator Frank Wagner, now a lobbyist for Princess Cruise Lines, advocated for the bill, stating: "I think if we throw out the welcome mat we could start up a new cruise industry that we haven’t seen before."

The bill stipulates conditions for casino operation, requiring ships to be at least one mile from Virginia ports and to include at least one foreign port in their itinerary, a provision that would prevent the law from greenlighting floating casinos that stay in one spot.

Delegate Shelly Simonds, a Democrat from Newport News and the bill's sponsor, said: "This bill was written to exclude any riverboat-style casinos or booze cruises. It is for large ships that weigh over 50,000 tons, with at least 2,000 passengers on overnight voyages."

An annual fee of $50,000 for local casino privileges was proposed for cruise ships stopping in Virginia, with a higher fee of $125,000 for those passing through without stopping.

Delegate Simonds highlighted that the issue transcended the local implications for Yorktown, pointing out the existing cruise ship operations and investments in Norfolk. “These ships are already traversing Virginia waters. They’re already coming. Norfolk has already made a $12 million commitment to cruise operations,” Simonds said. “You can not like the cruise industry, but this bill is not specifically about cruising in Yorktown.” 

The subcommittee’s three Republicans voted in favor of the bill, but five Democrats overruled them.

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