‘Directly conflicting’ Virginia bills could mean more chaos in poker charity fight

The Virginia General Assembly has recently passed numerous charitable gaming laws. So much so, in fact, that a state senator is now claiming his colleagues passed a law that accidentally overruled another law approved two weeks earlier.

Legal sleuthing by Sen. Chap Petersen, D-Fairfax, could potentially upend General Assembly efforts to block charity poker games and strip the state’s Charitable Gaming Board of regulatory power after dispute overs of interests.

Petersen sponsored a 2020 law that legalized charity Texas Hold’em poker tournaments. In his practice as a private attorney, he represents charitable gaming clients who hope to benefit from this law.

In a revived legal challenge recently filed in Virginia Beach, Petersen argues that the state must restart the suspended charity poker program under rules passed by the Charitable Gaming Board in 2020. Petersen also says the board, a panel focused on the industry that has been criticized for its poor handling of conflicts of interest, hasn’t really been stripped of its power after all.

Both claims are based on the idea that the General Assembly and Governor Glenn Youngkin inadvertently repealed a bill they wanted to pass, creating a “fundamental misunderstanding” of the law.

“I’ve been doing this for 22 years,” Petersen said in an interview last week. “I don’t think I’ve experienced a situation like this.”

State attorneys argue that it is Petersen who misunderstands the law. If Youngkin wants to repeal something the General Assembly passed, Attorney General Jason Miyares’ office wrote in its response, “he must do so openly.”

“Fortunately, Virginia’s law works exactly as the General Assembly and Governor expect it to, and Plaintiff’s argument, while creative, is simply incorrect,” the state said in a filing seeking to make reject Petersen’s new request.

An old industry is trying to grow

Once the only form of legal gambling in Virginia, charity gambling began in 1973 with bingo halls dedicating a portion of their profits to charity. But the industry pushed to expand into electronic slots and poker, as Virginia licensed sports betting, casinos and slot parlors tied to horse racing.

This expansion has sparked greater scrutiny from lawmakers and questions about whether some industry players are using a charity veneer as a legal cover for loosely regulated, for-profit gambling businesses.

How the industry should be governed became a major point of contention after the Charitable Gaming Board tried to pass poker rules that state regulators along with the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services in Virginie felt designed to maximize profits at the expense of state oversight and compliance with what the General Assembly wanted.

The Legislature attempted to halt the rollout of charity poker last year by preventing regulations written by the board from taking effect and blocking the issuance of any poker licenses. Members of the Charitable Gaming Board, including chairman Chuck Lessin, opened unlicensed poker rooms anyway.

Poker rooms are now closed. But Petersen says they shouldn’t be because the state has never properly killed the controversial 2020 regulations, which he says remain in place.

Petersen’s new argument centers on two bills approved this year that deal with the same section of Virginia’s charitable gaming code. Governor Glenn Youngkin signed one, Senate Bill 402April 11. The other, Senate Bill 403was approved on April 27.

The previous bill stripped the Charitable Gaming Board of the power to pass new regulations in an effort to rein in a board that many lawmakers felt had gone essentially rogue. The second bill did not align with the first, as it tasked the same council with passing regulations requested by the General Assembly to strengthen oversight of charitable electronic gaming machines.

Both bills cannot be valid, argued Petersen in the new legal filing, because they contain “directly conflicting text.”

“There is no way to reconcile them,” he wrote. He argues that the most recently approved bill prevails because it “self-repealed” the previous one with language that “amended and re-enacted” the section of the code.

The result, says Petersen, is that Youngkin’s office has essentially restored the charitable gaming industry to full power by not complying with both bills.

“The governor is surrounded by the best lawyers in Virginia,” Petersen said in a tone that sounded like a joke. “I can’t believe they would have done this inadvertently or by mistake. I can only imagine it was one of the most brilliant maneuvers in the history of the Virginia legislature.

Youngkin’s office declined to comment.

In an Oct. 19 letter to the attorney general’s office drawing attention to the “immediate problem” with the law, Petersen acknowledged that courts in Virginia do not presume a law has been repealed when it is not. clear intention of the text. However, Petersen says the bills cannot be legally “harmonized” due to conflicting text on who is in charge of charitable gaming.

A spokeswoman for Miyares declined to comment on the ongoing litigation. In their court filing, state attorneys said the two bills could stand because they were intended to do different things.

“Considers that SB403 could make a sweeping repeal of a law passed weeks earlier without any tongue in his face that announced to lawmakers or the public that he was doing so is an absurd outcome,” the assistant attorney general wrote. Erin McNeil.

“The walls seem to be closing in”

The amended lawsuit is an effort to revive an earlier challenge launched on behalf of Billy the Kidden, a Virginia Beach-based animal rescue hoping for charity poker revenue, and Beach Poker Room affiliates. in Virginia Beach.

Kitten rescue lawsuit fails to save Virginia’s charity poker industry

Despite the failure of Petersen’s earlier lawsuit and the state-ordered shutdown of charity poker rooms on July 1, the Beach Poker Room briefly reopened in September. It remains unclear how the operation managed to evade the $50,000 fines the General Assembly enacted to force poker rooms out of business until they are properly licensed and regulated.

A new hearing in the case has been set for December 7, and the outcome could fundamentally change the power dynamic between the Charitable Gaming Board and the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, which works with the board to oversee charitable gaming. The power that the General Assembly intended to take away from the board was given to the VDACS, leaving the board as an advisory body that could no longer direct the VDACS to carry out its wishes.

The new relationship between the agency and the board created some uncomfortable moments at a recent board meeting. Board members complained that the new rules the agency had drafted for electronic gaming machines were too strict. They also hinted that the agency doesn’t understand the industry as well as the board.

Lessin, the chairman of the board who runs Pop’s Bingo in South Richmond, said he felt the state was about to shut down the industry.

“The walls feel like they’re closing in,” Lessin said.

“Why have a painting? asked Vice President Amy Solares, who owns a bingo hall in Virginia Beach. “How can we give you our advice? »

VDACS commissioner Joseph Guthrie, a Youngkin appointee who said he attended the meeting as a sign of goodwill under the “new paradigm”, said he wanted the industry to continue to help charities on a “long-term basis”.

“I’m here and I’m listening,” Guthrie said.

Responding to complaints that the industry was being harshly treated by tighter controls over money from electronic gaming machines, Justin Bell, a lawyer with the attorney general’s office, assured that board officials were simply following the decisions of the General Assembly.

“It’s just what the code says, man,” Bell said.

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Jennifer R. Strohm