‘Dude, I Had No Idea’: Will Virginia Sports Bettors Embrace Legal Sportsbooks?

Posted on October 13, 2020

For Virginia sports bettors, these are no doubt exciting times as the commonwealth prepares for its first fully legal VA sportsbooks to come online.

Right? Right?

As we learned, not exactly.

PlayVirginia recently surveyed a handful of local sports betting enthusiasts about Virginia’s recent legalization of sports wagering. We discussed their betting habits, VA sports betting regulations, and what the market could look like once the first sportsbooks open in early 2021.

The biggest takeaway? Even among some veteran sports bettors, knowledge about VA sports betting remains minimal.

As one bettor put it after learning that Virginia will soon have a competitive market with no fewer than four sportsbooks – and up to a dozen: “Dude, I had no idea.”

Here’s what else we learned from a random sampling of Virginia sports bettors.

About the surveyed Virginia sports bettors

We spoke to six bettors in all, and they came from throughout Virginia.

Four bettors spoke on the record and included their name, hometown and other bio information.

However, two bettors asked for anonymity. One bettor said he didn’t want to be identified because of the negative stereotypes around his “closet hobby.” Another asked not to be named because he works in an industry in which being a sports bettor could be deemed a conflict of interest.

Most of the surveyed bettors were at least vaguely aware that the Virginia General Assembly had legalized casinos and sports betting earlier this year. However, just one person truly understood the regulations and knew the timeline to launch.

“I have been following the Virginia legislative process to legalize sports betting from the very beginning,” said Matt Keenan, a 41-year-old from Stephens City, which is located near the West Virginia border. “I am well aware of the timeline for wagering to begin.”

However, Keenan was in the minority when it came to such detailed knowledge of the particulars

Five of the six surveyed bettors didn’t realize the launch of legalized Virginia sports betting was imminent. However, most of them suggested Virginia’s sportsbooks will get at least some of their business.

What Virginians bet on

Mike Denton, a 28-year-old from Richmond, calls himself a “semi-serious sports bettor.”

He said college sports – primarily football and basketball – are his favorite betting options. He’s also fairly active with MLB, golf and tennis. And if there’s a big fight weekend or a big horse-racing event, he’s likely to plunk down a few “fun bets” so he feels a small part of the action.

Currently, he has “about four or five” offshore sportsbook accounts that he funded and regularly uses. (Offshore sportsbook don’t operate legally in the US and Virginia.)

He didn’t want to divulge bankroll details, but he said most of his bets are in the “$100 to $200 range.” Additionally, he uses multiple books to shop for the best lines and best odds. It’s all part of his effort to maximize ROI.

Or, in some cases, it’s so he can bet on a less-popular sport that may not be available at all books.

“Even though I have a lot of online accounts, sometimes only one or two (sportsbooks) will offer the bet I want,” he said. “I like to bet top 10s or top 20 in golf – or an FRL (first-round leader). Or I like doing head-to-head matchups. But not all books offer those bets.”

Like Denton, Dusty Wallace also has a penchant for betting less-popular sports, including MMA. He usually deposits $25 to $50 at a time in an offshore account, and then he wagers $5 to $10 per MMA fight.

However, he doesn’t have such formal options for his other favorite sport: billiards. However, if one of Virginia’s new sportsbooks offers such wagering, he can finally go legit with his billiards betting.

“In billiards, I’ve only been able to bet privately,” he said. “Offshore online books take snooker bets, but I haven’t seen any for pool/billiards.

“Having a dedicated domestic service [would] change that.”

Keep betting dollars in Virginia

Keenan, the sports bettor from Stephens City who has closely followed Virginia sports-betting developments, currently bets at a legal sportsbook. However, he has to cross a state line to do it.

Ever since West Virginia sportsbooks went online, Keenan has simply made the short drive to the neighboring state to place bets. As a Virginia resident, Keenan can legally bet with DraftKings Sportsbook in West Virginia – as long as he’s physically located within WV’s borders.

Many northern Virginians currently drive into Washington, DC to do the same thing (even though the options are limited in DC). And the first Tennessee sportsbooks will soon be online and trying to lure VA bettors’ dollars.

However, Keenan is sick of having to make the drive. He’d much prefer to place his wagers from his phone and in the comfort of his own home. And who enjoys having to cross a state border every time a line moves or the odds finally land in the right spot?

So, when we asked him to gauge his excitement level on a scale of 1-10, Keenan didn’t play coy:

“I am at a level 10 in regards to excitement pertaining to legal sportsbooks operating in Virginia. The No. 1 reason for my excitement is the pure convenience I will have to fire on my plays at the exact moment I want when there is a particular number I’m trying to buy at.”

Erin Morris, a 22-year-old college student who resides in Charlottesville, is “a pretty casual sports bettor.” However, she comes from a family full of poker sharps, competitive pinochle players, and – more recently – daily fantasy sports enthusiasts.

However, she’s never signed up for an offshore sportsbook account. Additionally, other than a few friendly wagers and March Madness pools, she’s never placed a sports bet outside of Las Vegas. But she and her family spend at least a week or two in Sin City every year to partake in sports-betting bonanzas.

One of those weekends included the kickoff to the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament, which her beloved University of Virginia Cavaliers won in 2019.

Morris said she didn’t even realize Virginia was poised for legalized sports betting until she saw a tweet that was soliciting feedback for this story.

“I mean, I’m still going to go to Vegas and gamble there,” she said. “But if it’s really that easy here – I mean, yeah, I would definitely do some more betting if I can do it in Virginia and do it legally.

“I wonder if my brothers know about this.”

When offshore is your preferred option

A few Virginia sports bettors plan to keep their sports betting – or most of it, anyway – at offshore books.

Because he has a job that’s “adjacent” to a college athletics program in Virginia, one bettor didn’t want to be identified. However, even when Virginia sportsbooks begin signing up new customers in a few months, he said he won’t be one of them:

“I’m happy just using [my offshore accounts]. They’ve got everything I need. I feel like my money is safe because they’re big companies and have been around a long time. I had to close one account where I often got -105 odds. That book shut down, and I got my money. But I still have a few where I almost always get -108 odds or even better. That adds up in the long run if you’re trying to turn a small profit or at least stretch your bankroll. Plus, I can deposit and withdraw from my account with Bitcoin, which I like.”

There’s that other pressing issue of betting legally in Virginia, too.

“I’d prefer not to be in any state databases or anything as a known gambler and sports bettor, even though I’m not betting that much,” he said. “It could interfere with my job. Even if it’s legal and safer and stuff, I’m satisfied with my current setup and a little anonymity.”

Another bettor we spoke to asked to remain anonymous simply because friends and family don’t know he’s such an avid sports bettor.

“I’d rather avoid the conversation,” he said. “I’m not doing anything wrong. However, sometimes it’s just not worth the effort trying to change someone’s mind, like my family’s.”

However, those around him do know that he’s a lifelong Virginia Tech fan. In fact, he said he has a gift for betting on ACC basketball.

“My real Christmas is the arrival of conference play,” he said of his college hoops obsession. “And it leads right into March Madness. It’s the best time of the year.”

The hoops enthusiast, who said he also bets heavily on the Colonial Athletic Association and the Ivy League, has “somewhat” followed the progress of Virginia sports-betting legislation. Before we spoke, he read up on the regulations. However, he said he didn’t like what he saw.

Because the Virginia Lottery won’t allow VA sportsbooks to take wagers on in-state colleges and universities, some Virginia sports bettors will be forced to take their business elsewhere.

“It’s so stupid,” he said of Virginia’s wagering restrictions that also include a betting ban on the Olympics, youth sports and all college props. “Yeah, let’s make it so you can’t bet on Virginia or Virginia Tech if you live in Virginia. Genius stuff, there.

“But hey, nothing’s ever perfect, right?”

Photo by Dreamstime.com
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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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