New Virginia Bill Would Expand Number Of Legal Sportsbooks

Posted on January 20, 2021 - Last Updated on January 21, 2021

The Virginia General Assembly could bolster a soon-to-launch market by expanding the number of sports betting licenses that the Virginia Lottery can issue.

On Tuesday, the Virginia House of Delegates‘ ABC/Gaming Subcommittee pushed forward the legislation during its meeting. With the subcommittee’s 7-1 vote in favor of the measure, HB 1847, it now goes to the full General Laws committee.

The key aspect of the proposed legislation is how it would affect the maximum number of licenses. More precisely, it would clarify which licenses would count against a mandated cap.

More than 20 US states have legalized sports betting in recent years. Virginia joined the mix with legalization in July 2020. Subsequently, due to the commonwealth’s regulatory framework, industry insiders have lauded Virginia’s efforts to create a competitive marketplace.

Now, that promising market, which is expected to finally launch in the next few weeks, could be even more competitive.

Virginia Casinos and Sports Betting Licenses

The Virginia Lottery will oversee sports betting and casino gambling in the commonwealth. According to the VA Lottery, 25 sportsbooks submitted applications during a recent 90-day application period.

Initially, lotto officials expected to approve at least four sportsbook, but no more than 12. However, that number could swell to 19 thanks to HB 1847.

Del. Mark Sickles, a longtime sports betting proponent, introduced the latest bill. He said it simply cleans up some of their earlier efforts. More specifically, it clarifies how licenses for sportsbooks at new Virginia casinos will figure into the official count, he said:

“The bill I have today is 100 percent technical. What’s in here … are things that we thought we passed last year.”

Voters in the Virginia cities of Bristol, Danville, Norfolk and Portsmouth recently approved casino-resorts within city limits. A fifth, in Richmond, is on the ballot in November. Most of the casinos have already partnered with sportsbook operators.

Each of the casinos can have its own mobile app for sports betting. Although those licenses weren’t intended to count against the cap, Virginia Lottery Executive Director Kevin Hall said the initial language forced the governing body to do so.

“The lottery did not read it that way,” Sickles told the subcommittee. “It’s not what we intended.”

Instead, he wants the Virginia casinos to be handled like professional sports teams will be. As part of the Virginia sports betting legislation, pro teams that relocate their headquarters to Virginia are eligible to partner with a sportsbook operator and get a license. Those licenses wouldn’t count against the cap. Sickles wants to assure sports betting licenses issued to casinos also wouldn’t count.

That’s why he introduced the latest bill – to give more cap space. If signed into legislation, that means another five sports betting licenses for online-only sportsbooks could be up for grabs.

Other Sports Betting Considerations

In addition to possibly upping the number of licenses, HB 1847 and another bill addressed some other sports betting details.

Among them:

Olympic Betting Permitted

Virginia’s initial legislation included a betting ban on youth sports. However, the language would have also forced the VA Lottery to ban betting on the Olympics, which include underage athletes.

HB 1847 would greenlight Olympic betting. Hall said he was on board for the change. (However, the betting ban on in-state colleges and universities will remain.)

OK to Bet at Brick and Mortar Sportsbooks

Another bill, HB 1812, also addressed some technical language. However, it would essentially clarify that, in addition to online bets, Virginia casinos can take in-person wagers.

Del. Paul Krizek introduced the bill and said brick-and-mortar options for sports betting are important for casinos. He said it helps them deliver a Vegas-type experience to their customers. The bill passed 7-1 and now heads to the General Laws committee.

Subcommittee Addresses Charitable Gaming, Human Trafficking

Subcommittee members addressed some other gaming-related measures during Tuesday’s meeting.

Among other efforts, HB 1944 would require Virginia casinos to provide human trafficking training. All employees who interact with the public would be trained to spot and report potential human-trafficking victims.

Many community advocates joined the virtual meeting to pledge support for the bill, which the committee unanimously approved, 8-0.

The subcommittee tabled two bills related to charitable gaming for a future discussion: HB 1943 and HB 1944,

Members needed additional information and time to study the bills, one related to regulations and language and one on potential payouts and prize amounts.

Photo by Dreamstime
Dann Stupp Avatar
Written by
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.

View all posts by Dann Stupp