A Look At Virginia’s Staggered But Successful Sports-Betting Debut

Posted on January 26, 2021 - Last Updated on January 30, 2021

Legal sports betting in Virginia kicked off with industry giants FanDuel and DraftKings, as well as the surprise addition of the Washington Football Team, this past week.

At market maturity, Virginia could have nearly 20 online and brick-and-mortar sportsbooks operating throughout the commonwealth.

However, for the first weekend of regulated sports wagering, the industry’s two most recognizable names duked it out for early market share. Another industry giant is ready on deck, though.

Still, there was some confusion following the commonwealth’s staggered rollout and some of the secrecy regarding the permitting process.

FanDuel and WFT Lead the Pack

The Virginia Lottery issued the first temporary permit for sports betting to FanDuel and the Washington Football Team. It came this past Thursday, Jan. 21, and the dual permit holders launched that same day.

They were online before any other sportsbooks because Virginia lawmakers gave “substantial and preferred consideration” to operators that partnered with Virginia-based pro sports teams. (The WFT’s head offices and indoor training facility are located in the Virginia city of Ashburn.)

DraftKings, the other big player in the regulated US sports betting space, then launched on Sunday.

DraftKings’ parent company (Crown Virginia Gaming) received its temporary permit and launched that same day.

However, one other major sportsbook is right on their heels. The VA Lottery issued also issued a permit to BetMGM on Sunday. However, as of Tuesday morning, the sportsbook hadn’t yet gone live.

In all, 25 hopeful companies applied for sports betting permits in Virginia. Lotto officials told PlayVirginia that multiple companies should be live and accepting wagers by Super Bowl LV on Feb. 7.

A Good Weekend for the Sportsbooks

Virginia sports bettors finally got their chance to place legal wagers. Unfortunately for those customers, the sportsbooks had a rather successful weekend. They won the bookie vs. bettor battle thanks to the weekend’s biggest sports events.

On Saturday, when FanDuel was live in Virginia, UFC 257 took place in Abu Dhabi. In the pay-per-view headliner, Conor McGregor returned to the cage as a heavy -330 favorite. However, Dustin Poirier pulled off the upset with a brilliant second-round TKO.

That upset was good news for the sportsbook. After all, according to FanDuel, 83% of its betting handle for the fight was on McGregor, and they took many high-five-digit bets on the Irishman.

However, FanDuel took a bit of a hit with an “odds boost” promotion for UFC 257. According to company officials, they paid out $2 million to bettors who used the Poirier-specific super boost, which paid +750 for a KO/TKO upset.

The following day, DraftKings joined FanDuel in Virginia. It was just in time as the NFL Playoffs continued with the AFC and NFC championship games. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers beat the Green Bay Packers, 31-26, to win the NFC. In the AFC Championship, the Kansas City Chiefs topped the Buffalo Bills, 38-24.

In all, 74% of the two sites’ bettors were on the Packers to win. However, only about a third were on the Bills, so the sportsbooks took a bit of a hit with the Chiefs victory.

VA sports bettors are now readying for the granddaddy of sports betting. Super Bowl LV takes place Sunday, Feb. 7. The Chiefs are -3 favorites, and the total is 56. As with all Super Bowl games, sportsbooks also have a wide array of prop bets available for players.

Of course, before the Super Bowl, sports bettors have plenty of other wagering options with the NBA, NHL, college basketball, PGA and other sports.

Players Flock to Legal Markets in Virginia, Michigan

Virginia’s launch coincided with one in Michigan. Sportsbooks in both states began taking wagers this past week, and players were clearly ready to bet.

According to GeoComply, which provides geolocation services for the industry, VA and MI added more than 400,000 legal sports-betting accounts over the weekend.

Overall, in the nation’s 17 legal and operational sports-betting markets (16 states and Washington, DC), GeoComply recorded more than 30 million geolocation transactions – a quarter of which came in Virginia and Michigan alone.

That’s a 260% increase over the same weekend in 2020, due in large part to the proliferation of legal sports wagering in these and other new states.

As Seth Palansky, the vice president of corporate social responsibility at Conscious Gaming, said:

“Hundreds of thousands of people in Michigan and Virginia placed legal online bets for the first time this past weekend. This demonstrates that Americans will abandon illegal websites and the street corner bookie to place their trust in companies that are accountable, provide robust consumer protections and responsible gaming measures.”

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Dann Stupp

Dann Stupp is a longtime sports journalist who’s written and edited for The Athletic, USA Today, ESPN and other outlets. He lives in Lexington, Virginia.

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