Following a recent uptick in chatter, a state lawmaker this week made the first step toward legalizing Virginia sports betting.
Delegate Mark Sickles pre-filed a bill onto the 2019 calendar aimed at repealing constitutional prohibitions against sports betting and online lottery ticket sales. Sickles is not the first to suggest the idea; Delegate Marcus Simon discussed it last month.
While sports betting bills have become almost commonplace these days, this one might be a first. It seems to contain no provision for in-person wagering.
Instead, it defines an approved “sports betting platform” as:
“… a website, app, or other platform accessible via the Internet or mobile, wireless, or similar communications technology that sports bettors use to place sports bets.”
Virginia is one of the few states in which an online-only industry could make some sense. Land-based gambling is sparse, limited to retail lottery, a handful of bingo parlors and a riverboat off-track horse betting facility.
Online betting, however, would be available to about 8.5 million folks under Sickles’ statewide proposal.
What’s in the VA bill?
The Virginia sports betting bill would put oversight under the VA Lottery.
To accomplish that, it adds direct exemptions into existing statutes regarding contracts and gambling. It then creates a new article in the VA lottery law that lays out the basic framework for online sports betting.
Under the proposal, all professional and collegiate sports would be on the board, minus any matches involving Virginia schools.
As for taxes and fees, a total of five permits would be available at $250,000 apiece. The state would tax revenue at a rate of 15 percent, with the lottery keeping 2.5 percent of that as an administration fee. The bill also handles the allocation of those monies, including the establishment of a fund to treat problem gambling.
Lastly, the bill would also take the lottery itself online, permitting electronic ticket sales. Ten other states currently offer some form of online lottery sales or subscription service.
Virginia surrounded by an appetite for sports betting
A quick check on the legislative map shows the mid-Atlantic filling in with a legislative appetite of varying colors.
Delaware, New Jersey and Pennsylvania are all green. Each has its state-regulated industry up and running, including a thriving online/mobile NJ sports betting market. The other two are land-based only for now, but PA sports betting will go online soon.
As far as next-door neighbors, the same can be said of West Virginia. It managed to entirely pass a law, draft regulations and launch WV sports betting all in six months. Kentucky and Maryland each worked on sports betting legislation this year without passage, but the former already has two bills pre-filed for 2019.
More sports betting potential in the South
Even to the more-conservative South, North Carolina is suddenly making some noise about sports betting. And Tennessee has its first sports betting bill pre-filed, too.
The land-based casino industry is also starting to cramp Virginia a bit — or at least skim some of its residents’ dollars. Pennsylvania’s market is still growing as it prepares to enter the digital realm, and nearby MGM National Harbor in Maryland pulls in plenty of visiting foot traffic from across the region. Incidentally, both Maryland and the District of Columbia are candidates for legal sports betting, too.