Senator proposes casinos to pay for transportation

Published 10:57 am Saturday, January 4, 2014

Sen. L. Louise Lucas (D-18) offers a solution to paying for bridges, roads and tunnels: casinos.

Sen. L. Louise Lucas (D-18) makes a point during her presentation at the breakfast. Photo by Stephen H. Cowles

Sen. L. Louise Lucas (D-18) makes a point during her presentation at the breakfast. Photo by Stephen H. Cowles

“Transportation is most near and dear to my heart, but I don’t like tolls,” she told the audience during the annual Richard J. Holland Pre-Session Legislative Breakfast in the Smithfield Center on Friday. The event was sponsored by the Isle of Wight-Smithfield-Windsor Chamber of Commerce. The Virginia General Assembly convenes for its 60-day session beginning Wednesday, Jan. 8. Del. Rick Morris (R-64) and Sen. John Cosgrove (R-14) were also speakers for the occasion. Western Tidewater is included in each of their respective districts.

Stating that 39 other states legally allow casino gambling, she asked, “Why not Virginia?”

Lucas will again introduce “SB 19 Virginia Casino Gaming Commission; regulation of casino gaming, penalties.”

The bill, if passed, would not only create a gaming authority, but also allow casino gambling in qualified localities, such as being limited to places were at least 40 percent of the land is exempt from real property taxation. Further, the bill puts into law where the taxes go, with 90 percent would be directed to the Toll Mitigation Fund. That will be used to reduce tolls set up to pay for building and maintaining the Dominion Boulevard Bridge and Roadway Improvement Project and the Downtown Tunnel/Midtown Tunnel/Martin Luther King Freeway Extension Project.

Anticipating objections, Lucas said, “If you can raise money otherwise, fine.”

A senator since 1992 – and in politics since 1984, she added – her district includes parts of the cities of Franklin and Suffolk and the counties of Southampton and Isle of Wight.

Lucas said she enjoys going to casinos from time to time, and would prefer them to be on land, rather than riverboat gambling.

“Thirty-nine states already have casinos. I hope Virginia and Utah won’t be the last two,” she said. “You build it and they’ll come.”

During the question-and-answer period that followed the legislators’ presentations, someone in the audience asked Lucas how could she guarantee the money would go toward transportation.

She noted that when the lottery was established in Virginia, there was talk of directing the money toward education, but nothing was written into law. That “wiggle room” as Lucas called it, allowed for the money to be funneled into a general fund. Her bill specifically states how the taxes on casinos would be used for roads and bridges.

Cosgrove agreed, but pointed out that one General Assembly in the future could change that bill, “unless a constitutional amendment is passed” solidifying the legislation’s intent.