|Promulgation of regulations for Texas Hold’em poker tournaments by the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services
|Ended on 2/14/2024
Commissioner Joseph Guthrie
Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services
P.O. Box 1163
Richmond, Virginia 23218
Dear Commissioner Guthrie,
I am writing to ask for parity in Virginia gaming. As you know, a 2020 law allowed for charities, with the help of a professional operator, to run Texas Hold’em poker tournaments. After waiting years for VDACS to promulgate regulations for tournament play, your recently published draft makes charitable poker infeasible both from an economic and quality of play perspective. There are 3 specific issues we would like you to fix during the comment period that opens on January 15, 2024. These actions require no new legislation and will promote survival, growth, and equal treatment of charitable gaming in our Commonwealth.
We have heard that you have stated point blank that you refuse to change these regulations based upon pressure from 1-2 specific legislators. We submitted public comments on these issues in the past and to date our opinions have been ignored. We hope you will adopt these comments and if not provide sound public policy reasons why you feel the need to regulate well beyond what the enabling legislation requires.
The issues we would like you to address are:
Concurrent Tournaments: The draft regulations limit a charity to only two tournaments in a 24-hour period. This regulation will basically kill charitable poker. Poker operators need to hire and train dealers. Two tournaments a day is not enough work for dealers. Moreover, 2 tournaments a day will severely hamper play. 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. There is no sound public policy reason for this limitation. 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, 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 or any games at casinos. We request that you strike any reference to limiting the number of tournaments played in a day or concurrently.
Use of proceeds: The charities desire is to donate the same percentage of proceeds from poker as all other forms of charitable gaming. However, mandating that 10% of gross receipts be mandated for use of proceeds, if receipts are defined to include the poker prize pool, will make it virtually impossible for charities to host poker. Poker entry fees are divided into both a prize pool and a house fee. The prize pool is held in trust for the winners. It is not revenue to the charity. For example, if an entry was $300 plus $30, if that full amount ($330) was counted as receipts, then the charity would have to donate $33 from $30 income - a non-starter. The only reason we have heard for this is that those same 1-2 legislators think we should follow bingo. Comparing bingo use of proceeds to poker use of proceeds is not proportional. Bingo prizes average 75% of gross revenue and poker prizes average 90% of gross revenue. Working with the current statute that mandates use of proceeds be based on gross revenue, the simple formula is to set the poker use of proceeds fee at 3.5% of gross revenue.
Tipping: We have been told the draft regulations prevent tipping because you had wanted tipping to be done as it is in casinos, which has a lock box for tips that are shared equally among the dealers. The charities want the exact same type of tipping which is the custom of the industry and we would ask that you remove that burden on charities that will make it that much harder for them to employ and retain dealers.
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.
Wren M. Williams