A Senate committee in Virginia yesterday passed a bill that potentially allows for casinos to be built in five cities in the US state.

The bill still has to stand the scrutiny of the Virginia’s Finance Committee and a number of other hurdles if it is to become law in the next two years – the bill precludes the award of any casino gambling licences before July, 2020.

Nonetheless, the early support for the bill represents a new high-water mark in a state that has, to date, flatly refused to entertain the notion of casino gambling.

The bill the committee approved would enable the Virginia cities of Bristol, Danville, Norfolk, Portsmouth and Richmond to stage referendums on whether to allow casino projects in their areas.

Senator L Louise Lucas, the Democrat senator for Portsmouth, proposed the bill and hailed the vote as a key landmark.

Virginia governor Ralph Northam, also a Democrat, has called on the General Assembly to establish a study on the potential casino gambling this year.

Bristol, Portsmouth and Danville have all been lobbying for permission to pursue gaming to boost local economies while the Pamunkey Indian tribe is seeking a federal process to secure a casino project, eyeing possible development sites in Norfolk and Richmond,

Monday’s bill also requests that the state’s lottery board undertakes a review of gaming laws in other states as part of the investigation process.