How Would Capitals And Wizards Moving To Virginia Affect Sports Betting?

Written By Dan Holmes on December 14, 2023
Photo of Washington Wizards and Capitals owner Ted Leonsis speaking at a presser on a story about teams moving to Virginia.

From zero to two.

That could be the story for Virginia, which is the most populous state without a major professional sports team. The Washington Wizards and Washington Capitals could move to the commonwealth in five years … if an ambitious plan by the governor is approved.

How would the move affect Virginia sports betting?

Youngkin talking like it’s a done deal

Fourteen online sportsbooks serve the Virgina sports betting market. There are also three casinos that offer in-person betting.

Gov. Glenn Youngkin announced this week that his office and the owners of the NHL’s Capitals and NBA’s Wizards have reached a tentative agreement to play in Northern Virginia starting in 2028. The plan hinges on a $2 billion publicly-funded arena in Alexandria to host both teams.

He has proposed the creation of the Virginia Sports and Entertainment Authority, which would serve as a vehicle to issue bonds to fund the project.

On Dec. 13, Youngkin touted the economic impact the moves would have on Virginia.

“The commonwealth will now be home to two professional sports teams, a new corporate headquarters and over 30,000 new jobs.”

If the arena project is approved by Virginia lawmakers, the state could finally have its first major professional sports teams. With nearly 9 million people, Virginia is the largest state without a NBA, NFL, MLB or NHL team.

Both teams are struggling with attendance this season

The impact of two major pro sports teams within its borders could be significant for Virginia sports betting. Since it launched in 2021, the state’s sportsbooks have performed well, generating tens of millions in revenue for the state.

According to the Virginia Mercury, “taxes from sports betting more than doubled in fiscal year 2023 … jumping to $67 million from $27 million the prior year.” That figure is well above the predicted levels.

The lure of a modern arena in a metropolitan area is always attractive to the owners of sports teams. Both the Caps and Wizards are owned by Ted Leonsis, former senior executive of America Online. He is now chairman and CEO of Monumental Sports & Entertainment, the holding company that controls both teams.

A challenge for both the teams has been the transient population in D.C., where many residents are from somewhere else. Last season, the Wizards ranked 24th in attendance among 30 NBA teams. The Capitals, who play in Capital One Arena in D.C., rank 20th this season in attendance.

In the 2022-23 season, an average of 18,573 fans attended 41 home games, seventh in the league. Capital One Arena was the first in U.S. sports to have a retail sportsbook.

Would there be a sportsbook in the new arena?

According to the law, professional teams can apply for a sports betting license if they meet certain requirements. This could mean a sportsbook at the proposed Alexandria arena, in partnership with a sports betting operator.

How retail sports betting at a Virginia arena would impact mobile sports betting in Virginia remains to be seen. In other states with that arrangement, there is no decrease in activity.

If anything, a retail sportsbook in the arena where a pro team plays is a boon to online sports betting.

Sports team affinity could increase wagering, tax revenue

Virginia sports betting regulations permit wagering on professional teams that compete inside the state.

With the Capitals and Wizards playing in the state, it’s possible more Virginians would bet on one of their “own teams.”

A name change (Virginia Wizards?) would go a long way in achieving that.

There has been no discussion yet as to whether the Capitals and Wizards would change their names. When both teams relocated to D.C. in the late 1990s from Maryland, they were already using “Washington” in their names.

What would happen to Capital One Arena (and its retail sportsbook)?

Leonsis explained that even if his two teams moved south to Virginia, Capital One Arena would still have a use.

“Our intention is to expand here and keep Capital One Arena in D.C. a great place,” Leonsis said. He speculated that women’s sporting events and other competitions could be held there.

Photo by Alex Brandon/AP
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Dan Holmes

Dan Holmes has written three books about sports. He previously worked for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Major League Baseball. He enjoys writing, running, and lemon bars. He lives near Lake Michigan with his daughters and usually has an orange cream soda nearby.

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