Virginians Wonder: Why So Many TV Spots For A Sportsbook That’s Not Even Here?

Posted on September 28, 2021

PointsBet Virginia isn’t really a thing, yet. Despite that, citizens of Old Dominion are regularly seeing television commercials, especially during sporting events, for the online sportsbook.

Is this just a troll, reminding Virginians of an option they don’t have among VA sportsbooks? Or is there more to this situation?

Regional broadcasting and the coming launch of sports betting in one of VA’s neighbors are part of the explanation for this phenomenon. There’s also a looming hope for PointsBet in VA for which the TV advertising would work well.

The status of PointsBet Virginia

PointsBet was one of the original applicants for a permit to offer online wagering on sporting events in VA. It didn’t make the cut, however, and thus it isn’t one of the current eight options available to Virginians.

So while VA residents and visitors can download the app and browse the lines if they like, it’s kind of pointless to do so. The app won’t accept any actual wagers from people in VA.

Then why is PointsBet dumping money into running commercials that Virginians are likely to see?

It isn’t a mistake or a prank. It makes sense once you understand what is happening next door and how ad spots for sporting events work.

PointsBet’s coming berth on the river

Maryland sports betting is on the horizon, with legal sportsbooks set to launch there later this fall. PointsBet has a market access deal there with the Riverboat on the Potomac and expects to be granted a license.

So, when that happens, Virginians will be able to cross the state line and place wagers on PointsBet’s platform then. You could look at PointsBet’s marketing to VA residents as a ploy to maximize that potential crossover.

However, it probably isn’t actually that targeted. Sports broadcasting contracts can be more regional than local to specific cities or states. It resembles 17th-century European colonizers’ peace conferences more than current political divisions.

For example, the territory that MLB gives to the Washington Nationals actually divides four states. Maryland and Virginia are two of them. Thus, the broadcasting rights are sold along those lines. The current rights holder, MASN, sells ad spots to those broadcasts.

All that means people who watch Nats games in MD see the same ads as those watching the same games in VA. So while it’s true that PointsBet isn’t close to being up and running in VA, they are close to that end in MD, and MD is close.

What’s more, Virginians might not be on the outside looking in here in perpetuity. Some recent legislative activity opened another window for PointsBet Virginia to potentially become a thing in Old Dominion.

More permits up for grabs in VA

Earlier this month, the VA General Assembly passed a bill that works in PointsBet’s favor. Essentially, the Assembly said: Yes, Virginia, you can have more sportsbooks if you want them.

The new law clarifies that online sportsbooks with a retail component don’t count toward the cap of 12 online sportsbooks. That opened up five permits for new online-only sports betting brands.

PointsBet hasn’t confirmed whether it is one of the reported 18 applicants looking for one of those permits. However, its earlier interest and the marketing spend in the region suggest that is likely the case.

Even if the VA Lottery declines that application again, you might still see this marketing blitz continue because of the sportsbook’s plans in MD. In the long run, though, PointsBet probably hopes to be active in both markets.

Photo by Dreamsite / Rokas Tenys
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Derek Helling

Derek Helling is a freelance journalist who resides in Chicago. He is a 2013 graduate of the University of Iowa and covers the intersections of sports with business and the law.

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