Virginia sports betting is back in the hands of Gov. Ralph Northam after both chambers of the legislature approved his recommendations Wednesday.
Both Del. Mark Sickles and Sen. Jeremy McPike asked their respective chambers to approve the bills despite the governor’s changes, which Sickles called “largely administrative.”
Gov. Ralph Northam sent the bill back to the legislature with suggested edits earlier this month, necessitating the second vote. Sickles told LSR he expects the Virginia sports betting bill to be signed within two weeks.
“It’ll go back to (Northam) with us accepting his recommendations and so he’ll definitely sign the bill. It’s just when; I’m not sure.”
Northam’s Virginia sports betting changes
Northam attached a handful of requests to the Virginia sports betting bill. The most controversial of the asks could drive millions of dollars in increased licensing fees.
The $50,000-per-head background-check fee drew criticism for requiring payment for each manager of an operator. Sickles said legislators do not have line-item voting power in the reconvened session, so the fee likely must stay.
“We have no choice in our system but to have it stick because we can’t pick and choose on the governor’s recommendations,” Sickles said.
Fees likely to be addressed after passage
Sickles echoed LSR reporting from last week that the expensive fees might be sorted out later by regulators.
“There are operators that have a lot of owners, apparently, so some of them are worried about the fee, but they are going to address it during the regulations,” Sickles said.
“The lottery realizes that may be too much for some owners or some licensees that might become licensees under the new law to do sports betting, so they’re going to work on narrowing that in the regulations.”
The VA sports betting bill requires operators to pay $250,000 for a three-year license and $200,000 for renewal. It creates between four and 12 mobile licenses, though land-based casinos would get preference on five of those.
Governor’s other major request clarified
Northam also asked to expand the definition of a major-league professional franchise to include NASCAR. Previously, legislators included the NFL, NBA, NHL and MLB among leagues that potentially could operate a sportsbook in a stadium not yet built.
Sickles added context to the NASCAR request Tuesday:
“Allowing our two NASCAR facilities in Virginia to co-market with a licensee. Not to be a licensee themselves – although they could apply for it – just to allow one of the licensees to join forces or have the racetrack in Richmond or Martinsville do some marketing.”
Reconvened session will have distinct look
Virginia’s reconvened session is part of the regular state legislative calendar. It allows legislators to reconsider the governor’s requests on a variety of bills.
This year, however, will look quite different because of the coronavirus pandemic. The Virginian-Pilot details how legislators will situate to socially distance appropriately:
When state lawmakers reconvene in Richmond on Wednesday, they won’t be at their assigned desks under the dome of the Capitol, literally close enough to rub elbows with their seatmates.
Instead, they’ll be casting votes on amendments proposed by Gov. Ralph Northam while sitting at least six feet apart, with one chamber spread out on the capitol’s grassy lawn, and the other three miles away at the Virginia Science Museum.
Note: LSR reporter Matthew Waters contributed to this story.