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Reluctance among key legislators and a short legislative calendar likely will push Virginia sports betting back at least a year.
Sources indicate to Legal Sports Report that following a Senate committee vote to require an in-depth legislative study, prospects for sports betting in Virginia this year appear dim. The Senate Finance Committee also amended S 1126 to prevent any municipalities from holding voter referendums on gambling until 2020.
The Virginia General Assembly adjourns for the year on Feb. 23.
S 1126 is one of seven separate gambling-related bills introduced in the Virginia legislature this session. Sources contend, however, that Wednesday’s committee vote provides a clear view into the chamber’s view on the subject. They also suggest similar resistance could appear in the House of Delegates, where the speaker does not favor gambling expansion.
Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment told the Richmond Times-Dispatch that caution is appropriate:
“I can’t understand on an issue of this paramount importance why we would not want to make an informed and deliberate decision.”
Wednesday’s amendment to S 1126 gives the legislature at least nine months to study gambling and sports betting expansion:
… the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission shall conduct a review of casino gaming laws in other states and report any findings and recommendations to the Chairmen of the Senate Committee on General Laws and Technology and the House Committee on General Laws on or before November 1, 2019.
If the legislature enacts S 1126, Virginia likely will fall behind its neighbors in enacting legal sports betting. The Washington, D.C. council last month approved a bill that could bring sports betting to the district by September.
The DC sports betting bill offers a remarkable contrast to Virginia’s approach to sports betting. First proposed last fall, sports betting in the district likely will go from concept to startup in less than a year. DC’s mobile sports betting will make it possible for Virginia residents — many of whom work in Washington, D.C. — to bet legally while in the district.
In Maryland, officials want to act with urgency as well. State legislators will explore whether they can bypass a constitutional requirement for voters to approve new commercial gaming. They will look into the legality of starting sports betting via the lottery by way of a separate 1972 referendum.
Virginia’s legislature meets for just 30 days in odd-numbered years and 60 days in even-numbered years before adjourning. In 2019, that compresses the time frame for legislative progress to a month.
Wednesday’s committee vote gives gambling proponents precious little time to turn momentum their way. Given friction in both chambers and similar expected hesitance from Gov. Ralph Northam, Virginia sports betting certainly appears headed toward next year.
The slowdown in Virginia also could offer a cautionary tale for sports betting advocates in other states with tight legislative timelines.