Virginia Regulatory Town Hall
Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services
Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Charitable Gaming
Texas Hold’em Poker Tournament Regulations [11 VAC 20 ‑ 30]
Action Promulgation of regulations for Texas Hold’em poker tournaments by the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services
Stage Proposed
Comment Period Ended on 2/14/2024
Previous Comment     Next Comment     Back to List of Comments
2/13/24  8:13 pm
Commenter: David Ryan Governor Richmond Good Lions

Va Poker Regulatiosn

I am David Ryan, the Governor of the Fraternal Order of the Good Lions Richmond Lodge No. 1. (the “Good Lions”). The Good Lions is a charitable entity based in Richmond, VA. The Good Lions mission is to “promote the common good, positively impacting the community social welfare, morale and unity through the promotion of fraternity, neighborliness, shared educational and cultural experiences, fellowship and comraderies.” Over the past 40 years, the Good Lions and other Richmond-based community charities have generated significant revenues for charitable donations that originated from Pops Bingo Hall, which includes both traditional bingo and electronic pull tabs.

Charitable gaming has a long history in the Commonwealth and for some time was the only form of legal gaming in Virginia. Charitable gaming was joined by the Virginia Lottery in 1988. Charitable gaming – i.e., gaming where a percentage of the proceeds is donated to charities - now faces significant competition from for-profit entities as well as the Virginia Lottery. It is a time of significant change for gaming in Virginia as casinos are now proliferating in the Commonwealth. In addition to all the table games, slot machines and other games of chance, casinos can offer virtually unlimited poker, which goes well beyond Texas Hold ‘Em tournaments, and includes cash games, stud poker, Omaha, etc. The current gaming landscape also includes Colonial Downs + Rosie’s gaming operations throughout the state, at which they offer a wide range of electronic games and horse wagering. In addition, sports betting is now legal in the Commonwealth. Lastly, the Virginia Lottery offers a wide range of scratch tickets at stores and also has a range of online gaming in addition to the traditional numbers’ games. At the time of this comment, it appears as if the General Assembly will also likely legalize so called “skill games.”

In this climate, for inexplicable reasons, the charities are being severely restricted in their abilities to conduct Texas Hold ‘Em tournaments. Almost four years since the General Assembly passed a law that required the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (“VDACS”) to promulgate regulations to permit charitable poker tournaments, we are finally close to being able to bring poker back to Pops and others that might wish to hold charitable poker tournaments. When the law was passed in 2020, it was understood that a main purpose of allowing charitable poker was to help the charities replace declining revenues from bingo. With the proliferation in gaming occurring, those revenues are projected to decline even further in the years ahead. The draft regulations have been posted and reposted several times without explanation for the long delays. Even though these regulations are exempt from the Administrative Process Act, the regulatory process has been painfully slow as the poker room at Pops and others sit vacant and the abilities to receive and make charitable donations has waned. 

We are asking for some measure of parity in Virginia gaming under the law as enacted. As we and those we are working with have repeatedly informed VDACS, the recently published draft makes charitable poker infeasible both from an economic and quality of play perspective. Accordingly, we strongly support the points made by Delegates Taylor and Williams in their letters posted on the town hall. We request that the changes suggested by Delegates Taylor and Williams be adopted into the regulations.

In particular, we strongly oppose any limitation on “concurrent tournaments.”  VDACS, for reasons unknown, has decided to severely limit the number of charitable tournaments that may be conducted per day. The draft regulations limit a charity to only two tournaments in a 24-hour period. This regulation will in effect prohibit entities like the Good Lions from conducting charitable poker tournaments, to the detriment of the charities. The law expressly recognizes that some charities will hire a professional operator to run the poker tournaments. Va. Code sec. 18.2-340.28:2.B. Poker operators  need to hire and train dealers and staff. Two tournaments a day is not enough work for the team required to run a tournament effectively. A professional operator will not be able to rely upon volunteers as utilized by bingo.

Moreover, two tournaments a day will put charities at a significant disadvantage in drawing players to their games. Casinos have no limitation on the type and frequency of tournaments they can hold. This arbitrary limit will strongly discourage poker players from playing with the charities. A well accepted type of poker tournament is called a “sit and go” tournament. This is a tournament where when 10 players (or another number as determined by the operator) have signed up and they then can “sit and go” at the table and play a tournament as enough players are available. Prohibiting sit and go tournaments flies in the face of poker operations. There is nothing in the enabling law that prohibits sit and go tournaments, yet the proposed regulations do just that.

There is no sound public policy reason for the strict limitation on the number of tournaments that may be held each day. Nothing in the 2020 poker law sought to limit the number of concurrent tournaments, rather it was meant to help replace bingo revenue for charities.  No casino, lottery game, bingo hall, sports book (or skill games if legalized) have any restriction that limits the operators’ ability to run the games that patrons demand. There is no time limit on how long someone can play pull tabs, bingo, online lottery games or any games at casinos.

VDACS is under the direction of the Honorable Governor Glenn Youngkin and his duly appointed Commissioner of VDACS Joe Guthrie. In Executive Order 19, Governor Youngkin created the Office of Regulatory Management (“ORM”). EO 19 speaks of streamlining the regulatory process and reducing the regulatory burden on Virginians. EO 19 states that the citizens deserve best in class regulatory treatment and that the ORM will work to ensure that all regulations are reviewed for their impact on the “regulated community and most importantly the private citizens of our Commonwealth.”

There has been not a single public comment stating that the number of tournaments a charity may conduct per day should be limited in anyway. Throughout this regulatory process, we have repeatedly told VDACS that the limit on concurrent tournaments would stifle the conduct they are supposed to regulate. VDACS has been indifferent to our requests, which is contrary to the policies of Governor Youngkin as expressed in EO 19 and in the creation of ORM. We respectfully request that you strike any reference to limiting the number of tournaments played in a day or concurrently. 

In sum, we ask that the charities ability to fundraise for their charitable purposes be encouraged not discouraged.  The monitoring of these events should be the primary focus and goal of these regulations. Thank you for your consideration on these issues and your continued support of the Commonwealth’s charities.

CommentID: 222215