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Virginia lawmakers advance plan to legalize casinos

In this Dec. 16, 2019 photo, patrons play gaming machines in the Rosie's gaming center in Richmond, Va..  Gambling-related issues are set to be one of the hottest topics at the state Capitol when lawmakers return to the Richmond next month to kick off the 2020 legislative session. Lawmakers will decide whether to legalize online sports betting and whether to regulate betting machines that have proliferated in convenience stores in recent years. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
In this Dec. 16, 2019 photo, patrons play gaming machines in the Rosie's gaming center in Richmond, Va.. Gambling-related issues are set to be one of the hottest topics at the state Capitol when lawmakers return to the Richmond next month to kick off the 2020 legislative session. Lawmakers will decide whether to legalize online sports betting and whether to regulate betting machines that have proliferated in convenience stores in recent years. (AP Photo/Steve Helber) (Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

RICHMOND, Va. – Virginia lawmakers are taking steps to legalize casinos in five cities around the state.

A Senate committee advanced legislation Tuesday that would allow Bristol, Danville, Richmond, Norfolk and Portsmouth to hold local referendums to approve casinos.

Virginia is currently one of only a handful of states that forbid any type of casinos, but it has been inching toward legalizing them in recent years.

Advocates say large-scale resorts with casinos in economically disadvantaged areas will create new jobs and boost tax revenues.

Conservative groups warned lawmakers that new casinos would enrich wealthy developers and casino operators while hurting the state’s poor.