Virginia’s Charitable Gaming Board Under Fire

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Blackjack table. Ethan Miller/Getty Images/AFP

Social club and casino nights at the local VFW are common throughout the country. Play a poker tournament or hit the blackjack tables, spin the roulette wheel, or roll the dice, it’s all in good fun. And as long as the game has a permit, donates the proceeds after expenses to a worthy cause then it is a win-win all the way around.  

And that’s essentially what Virginia’s Charitable Gaming Board oversees which seems like an innocent enough endeavor but some believe shenanigans abound. Sitting members of the Joint Subcommittee on Charitable Gaming have asked House Speaker Todd Gilbert to replace those members who are suspected of coloring outside the lines, citing financial conflict of interest. 

Senator John Bell (D-Loudoun) stated in a Monday morning presser, “Today we have a lot of division politically but I want to make this point clear because it’s a powerful one: We have absolutely no division on this. Frankly, many of the things we discovered are disturbing. We have a problem in charitable gaming today in Virginia.” 

“There’s no better way of putting it than to say we’ve lost faith in those who are currently leading this body and we need a change,” Bell said. 

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The hubbub has much to do with the chairman of Virginia’s Charitable Gaming Board, Chuck Lessin. According to a report by the Office of the State Inspector General (OSIG), Lessin stood to personally gain from regulations for charitable Texas Hold ‘em poker tournaments that the Board was drafting and he did not recuse himself from those discussions.  

However, Lessin believes charitable gaming is under attack by for-profit gaming entities that stand to lose whatever slice of the gambling pie that the not-for-profit gaming earns on behalf of local charities.  

“I am saddened by the perception but I feel very confident that I acted like all other Board members in the state,” Lessin said when asked to respond to the OSIG’s report. 

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“I don’t think you would want, in my case, Board members to recuse themselves. We are active and involved in the industry and there was nothing in the regs or in the statute for that matter that benefited directly me. It was an entire industry that would benefit from it,” Lessin said. 

In the 2022 session of the General Assembly, topics on the table include bolstering enforcement of charitable gaming and setting more definitive parameters in terms of where electronic gaming devices can be placed. There is also talk of eliminating the regulatory authority of the Charitable Gaming Board and relegating its role to that of an advisory board. 

Lessin believes the burgeoning casino industry in Virginia is responsible for the current legislative push and has been lobbying to diminish non-profit gaming in the Commonwealth. 

“I think the Charitable Gaming Board has been mistreated in a really big way and I think that all of that falls at the feet of big money coming in and influencing the legislators to try to shut down what the charities have had for decades,” Lessin said. 

But Senator Bell rebuts that argument as “ridiculous”. “We don’t want to do any harm to the many great charities out there,” Bell said. “Matter of fact, we want to protect them and want to make sure the bad actors aren’t taking away from the good that they’re doing.”