Virginia is likely just weeks or even days away from the launch of its online sports betting market. Ahead of that debut, PlayVirginia spoke to writers from our network who cover sports betting in other states. We wanted to understand what those states are doing right, what they’re doing wrong, and how Virginia’s regulators, first sportsbook operators, and VA sports bettors could learn from their successes and failures.
Today is the final installment of our three-part “States of Sports Betting” series. In the first two, we looked at other states’ successes and those states’ failures. In the series finale, the writers share advice for Virginia sports-betting stakeholders.
Sports betting advice for Virginia
Virginia won’t be the first state to launch a sports betting market. After the US Supreme Court struck down the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) in 2018, some states pounced and quickly debuted.
Now, though, Virginia will look to carve out its share of a multibillion-dollar industry that’s only getting bigger by the day.
So, what does Virginia need to do to succeed? How can the governing Virginia Lottery, the sportsbook licensees, and even VA sports bettors make the most of this nascent market?
As we learned from writers who cover other states’ markets, there’s no single best approach. However, almost universally, they all suggested that a straightforward, unencumbered game plan is best.
Joe Boozell of PlayIllinois summed up his sports betting advice quite well.
“Don’t overcomplicate things, use common sense, and take note of what has worked in other markets — and the concerns that have been overblown,” he said.
About that betting ban on VA schools
When it comes to creating a healthy market, no single entity will have more influence than the Virginia Lottery. Soon, VA Lottery Executive Director Kevin Hall will announce which sportsbooks get licenses. Then, the market could be live within a matter of days.
First, though? Stay in touch with the vets.
“My advice would be to get New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement Director David Rebuck on the phone and pick his brain,” Bill Gelman of PlayNJ said. “In each of the last four months, NJ has set a record in terms of handle for any legal sports betting jurisdiction, including Nevada. Clearly, the Garden State has a system that works, and Rebuck is a great source for info and intel.”
Other writers made special mention of Virginia’s unfortunate betting ban on in-state colleges and universities.
“At least in Indiana, college basketball and football is a huge amount of the state’s handle from month to month,” Jake Garza of PlayIndiana said. “You’re really shooting yourself in the foot by not allowing it.”
Matt Schoch of PlayMichigan concurred:
“The ban suggests there’s some illegitimacy to sports betting, which is off base. Michigan currently bans prop bets on individual college athletes, which seems like a reasonable step. But if there was ever going to be a huge conspiracy attached to sports betting, simply banning bets on the Virginia Cavaliers or Virginia Tech Hokies won’t change anything. If anything, regulators being able to monitor betting markets for irregularities will only help squash potential fraud. Plus, the state is missing out on revenue by banning bets on popular local teams.”
Reconsider Virginia’s Olympic betting ban
In addition to VA schools, the commonwealth’s betting ban also applies to the Olympics. Many Olympic sports traditionally garner little betting interest throughout the year. But during the actual Olympic games, interest, both viewing and betting, peaks.
That’s why Derek Helling of PlayIA said lawmakers and regulators should reconsider the ban on Olympic betting.
“Just like with Iowa punting on (the ability to bet on the) NBA and NFL Drafts, it seems foolish for the Virginia market to punt on the Olympics,” he said. “Those are high-profile events that are heavily monitored by international bodies, just like FIBA and FIFA competitions.
“Sure, there’s corruption, but that’s most often in where the Olympics take place, not in the actual competitions.”
Additionally, as with the college-betting ban, the restrictions on Olympic betting will simply hurt Virginia’s bottom line.
How Virginia sportsbooks can succeed
Indiana has become a success story in terms of legal sports betting. The Hoosier State has recorded four consecutive months of record handles. In fact, bettors wagered more than $1 billion in Indiana in 2020.
Sure, the state has some professional sports teams and some major NCAA Division I programs. However, Garza of PlayIndiana said the state’s success is also due to the Indiana Gaming Commission.
“As far as other advice for the Virginia Lottery, just keep an open mind about things,” he said. “Say yes when operators want to take action on different sports or events. Having dozens of obscure betting options really helped out Indiana when the popular sports went offline because of the pandemic.”
“And who knows, allowing betting on weird stuff just might lead to a reliable niche betting group like what Colorado has now with table tennis.”
Another state with a sports-betting boom? Pennsylvania, which has averaged a monthly handle of $171 million since sports began returning from COVID-19 shutdowns in August.
As Katie Kohler of PlayPennsylvania said, a big reason for the state’s success is the sportsbooks’ online platforms.
When there’s a competitive market like the one Virginians will see, customers benefit. After all, if they’re not happy with one sportsbook’s mobile app or user experience, they can seek out a better option.
“It really is all about the app,” she said. “It has to be easy to use, user-friendly, and deposit/withdrawal methods have to be simple and fast.”
A reminder for Virginia sports bettors
As for the bettors themselves, the writers also had some sports betting advice.
As Kohler mentioned above, sportsbook companies need their apps to function seamlessly. It’s the key to acquiring and retaining customers.
Virginia bettors should keep that fact in mind. Not happy with your sportsbook? You’re likely to find other books that will happily take your business — and they’ll make it worth your while.
“Competition is good,” Kimberly Yuhl of PlayWV said. “The WV sports betting market grew with each new operator. Operators may fear cannibalization of the customer base when a new operator comes online, but that isn’t the case in WV. We have found customers have a favorite sportsbook and remain pretty loyal.
“Knowing that, operators would do well to spend money on acquiring customers and innovating their platform.”
Marc Meltzer of PlayNevada knows Virginia will offer bettors an array of sportsbook options. As a result, customers should get more attractive odds and fair limits for high rollers:
“Competition should breed a better product for the customer. Multiple outlets should allow for better technology, more promotions and better odds. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem like the latter is important to most states just looking to generate tax revenue. Over time better odds and fair limits will keep people playing longer. In turn, the more enjoyable the experience, the more money they’ll spend. If the odds are so bad that the first buy-in from a new customer runs out quickly, they won’t likely return.”
Few industries can be both as exciting and as problematic as sports betting.
As with any other vice, there’s real potential for addiction among some players.
Regulators and sportsbooks are supposed to ensure safe and responsible gaming. However, it’s far from guaranteed, so bettors, especially those new to sports wagering, should take a cautious approach.
Ultimately, the responsibility for a safe market falls on all stakeholders — regulators, operators, and the players themselves. In Tennessee, where a sports-betting marketplace launched just six weeks ago, some issues have already popped up that new bettors should keep in mind.
“For states where most other forms of gambling are prohibited, it is significantly important for responsible gambling initiatives to be properly established and funded,” Alec Cunningham of PlayTenn said. “Before sports betting launched in Tennessee, the state lottery was the only legal form of gambling that existed. Now, Tennessee has experienced a considerable uptick in calls to its problem gambling hotline.
“Only time will tell whether our state has the appropriate resources in place to address these new issues.”