One of the subplots of legalizing sports betting in Virginia was eventually luring the Washington, DC, NFL franchise out of Maryland. If that were to happen, there might be a sportsbook inside the home stadium of the Washington Football Team someday.
Several things will have to fall into place first. VA law already allows for it, as have the NFL’s internal policies.
What would have to happen to put a FedExField sportsbook in VA?
The most straightforward answer: A new stadium for the Washington Football Team would have to be built in Virginia.
It’s no secret that the franchise’s ownership is looking for that, as its current lease expires in 2027. As early as 2007, principal owner Dan Snyder started privately stumping for a new venue. In 2014, he was quite bullish about it, despite the venue being only 17 years old at that time.
“Whether it’s Washington, DC, whether it’s another stadium in Maryland, whether it’s a stadium in Virginia, we’ve started the process,” Snyder said.
In 2018, Snyder lobbied officials in the District of Columbia for tax dollars for a new stadium at its old home, RFK Stadium. Since then, the NFL has changed its policies on sports betting at the stadiums the teams call home.
In July 2020, the federal government told Snyder that using the land for a new arena wouldn’t be discussed until the franchise stopped using its old nickname, the Redskins. Also, over the course of the year, several NFL franchises, such as the Denver Broncos, Detroit Lions, and New York Giants, announced sports betting partnerships with brands including BetMGM and DraftKings.
So far, there has been no open luring of the Washington Football Team to Virginia. However, the legalization and launch of sports betting in early 2021 is a definite advantage for the Old Dominion State.
Why DC, VA have a leg up on MD right now
Snyder has also been upfront about wanting a legal sportsbook at his franchise’s next venue. That came on the heels of Maryland lawmakers considering legalization in 2020.
That bill ultimately failed. The MD Legislature did enact a simpler amendment proposal just before the deadline, however, and voters formally legalized sports betting in November. DraftKings and FanDuel were among the operators pushing for legalization.
Meanwhile, both DC and VA laws explicitly allow for retail sports betting at arenas that host sporting events. Capital One Arena already has a William Hill-branded sportsbook operating in the box office. However, a full-fledged multi-level sportsbook is on the way this year.
MD has the interests of the Baltimore Orioles and Ravens to consider, as well. Additionally, proponents can sell it as a way to soften the blow of COVID-19-related budget deficits.
Why a new Washington stadium may be years away
Over the past 30 to 40 years, no new NFL stadiums have been built without using public money. Usually, this comes in the form of property tax exclusions or the sales of public bonds.
In March 2020, VA officials estimated the state would see a shortfall of $1 billion over the next two years because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Excluding a new NFL stadium from property taxes or diverting public dollars to that project while the state is cutting other programs is probably not in the cards anytime soon.
Officials in MD have an even more grim outlook, saying the state will be $2 billion short over that same time period. The District of Columbia is also staring down a budget deficit in the hundreds of millions of dollars.
If the Washington Football Team wants a new stadium soon, it will likely have to secure most of the funding for the project itself. It’s uncertain right now when the three competing jurisdictions would be willing to offer public money at the necessary scale.
Assuming the Washington Football Team opts to foot the bill for a new stadium somewhere in Virginia, a few final hurdles would still be in place. Comparatively, however, they would be relatively easy to clear.
A FedExField by any other name would smell as sweetly
It’s uncertain whether FedExField would retain the naming rights for a new NFL stadium in VA.
As the current rights holder, the company may have the first right of refusal. The details of that private contract are not known. That’s just one of the many matters that any owner of this hypothetical stadium would have to settle.
Another is how to operate the sportsbook inside the arena.
While owner or ownership group could opt to do it themselves, that’s unlikely. Operating a sportsbook requires significant resources, and it’s far easier to contract with a third party. A new NFL stadium would be an attractive partner for a company such as FanDuel or Fox Bet.
For that reason, the competition for the contract could be friendly to whoever owns the arena. Once the owner awards that contract, it’s merely a matter of building out space for the book. By the time this hypothetical situation would become a reality, it’s likely that a sportsbook partner would already have an appropriate license from the VA Lottery.
This hypothetical situation could also occur at the current FedExField if and when Maryland legalizes sports betting. That would take care of retail wagering, but the issue of online betting may be a tougher nut to crack.
What about online betting at FedExField?
Neither Washington, DC, nor Virginia give a specific sportsbook brand at a stadium “air supremacy.”
In this context, that means barring bettors from using other online sportsbook brands in the arenas’ vicinities.
Having a retail presence at an NFL stadium is a great value for a sportsbook operator. However, some of that is lost if hundreds of attendees are wagering with a competitor on their phones.
There are solutions to that problem.
DC and VA could amend its laws to give such operators an exclusivity zone. Enforcing that may prove difficult, however, as geofencing technology is still developing for this purpose.
A better way to protect its investment is for the operator to offer special promotions that bettors can only access inside the venue, even online. The accuracy of geolocation services is aided with Bluetooth markers and local WiFi for that purpose.
Offering a superior product is a great way to gain and retain customers. That’s why the Washington Football Team wants a new stadium and in the race to provide that, VA currently has a leg up on MD.