Only Two Governors To Be Elected In 2021, Both In Gaming States

October 15, 2021
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Two states — one where gaming is just getting started and another almost synonymous with brick-and-mortar and online casinos — will elect governors on November 2.

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Two states — one where gaming is just getting started and another almost synonymous with brick-and-mortar and online casinos — will elect governors on November 2.

Virginia and New Jersey are the only states with gubernatorial elections this year and the outcomes are likely to have a significant impact on both the gambling industry and national politics.

Since launching online sports betting in January, Virginians have wagered more than $1.6bn on sporting events — a number that is certain to surge as the college and pro football seasons continue this fall.

The first of up to five land-based casinos is set to open in Virginia by the spring or summer of 2022, according to Virginia Lottery executive director Kevin Hall.

Virginia remains one of the few states without a tribal casino, but the Pamunkey Indian Tribe will develop a new casino in Norfolk, and another casino in Bristol will be operated by the Seminole Tribe as it expands its gambling empire beyond Florida.

Former Governor Terry McAuliffe, a 64-year-old Democrat whose first four-year term started in 2014, could not seek re-election in 2017 because Virginia is the only state which prohibits a sitting governor from running again.

This unique law is a legacy of Virginia's resentment of royal authority dating back to the American Revolution, according to Brent Tarter, a retired historian with the Library of Virginia in Richmond.

During his first term as governor, McAuliffe signed the Fantasy Sports Act on March 7, 2016, making Virginia the first state to regulate the fantasy sports industry.

Since then, McAuliffe’s successor, outgoing Governor Ralph Northam, has signed several bills to firmly establish Virginia as a gaming state that offers historical horseracing terminals and a full suite of online lottery games, in addition to online sports betting and land-based casinos.

If he wins a second term on November 2, McAuliffe has said he would consider using revenue from casinos and marijuana sales in Virginia to increase education funding.

Glenn Youngkin, a 54-year-old businessman who is the Republican nominee for Virginia governor, has a blank slate when it comes to gambling issues.

A YouGov poll conducted from October 4 through October 11 shows McAuliffe with just a three-point lead over Youngkin.

U.S. President Joe Biden is expected to pull out all the stops for McAuliffe in the closing days of the campaign for governor of Virginia.

Both Democrats and Republicans are closely monitoring the race to glean any insights that might be useful in the mid-term congressional elections of 2022.

Meanwhile, in New Jersey, Democratic Governor Phil Murphy is ahead of his Republican opponent, Jack Ciattarelli, by about nine points, according to a Stockton University poll released in late September.

Murphy, 64, is a former Goldman Sachs executive who served as U.S. ambassador to Germany during the Obama administration.

Like McAuliffe in Virginia, Murphy has seen his lead shrink as job approval ratings for Biden and the Democratic-controlled Congress decline.

"In 2018, Governor Murphy signed the bill allowing sports betting in New Jersey, and specifically Atlantic City. I believe Ciattarelli would have also signed that bill," said Michael Busler, professor of finance at Stockton University near Atlantic City.

"Both view Atlantic City's contribution to the state's revenue as a positive," he said.

Murphy ordered the lockdown of Atlantic City casinos for an extended period during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020; however, Busler said he doubts Ciattarelli would have taken such a drastic step.

Ciattarelli, 59, is a businessman and former member of the New Jersey General Assembly.

Murphy made a critical decision for the gaming industry when he retained David Rebuck as director of the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement (DGE).

Rebuck managed the launch of New Jersey's internet gambling industry on November 26, 2013, and has overseen its rise to global prominence as a major market for online casinos and sports wagering.

Republican Governor Chris Christie nominated Rebuck to be DGE director on April 29, 2011.

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