Virginia lawmakers are looking to clean up some language that could open the door for more sports-betting licenses, as well as Olympics betting.
Last week the Virginia Lottery began issuing permits to the commonwealth’s first sportsbook operators. FanDuel, DraftKings and BetMGM were the first three with their temporary permits. Two of the sportsbooks have already launched and begun accepting bets.
Officials are expected to grant additional permits in the coming weeks ahead of Super Bowl LV on Feb. 7.
However, if the lawmakers’ latest recommended changes are implemented, the industry could expand – with more sportsbooks and more betting options.
Olympics Betting Back in Play
Del. Mark Sickles was instrumental in getting Virginia to legalize sports betting in July 2020. The longtime legal-wagering proponent had a vision for the Virginia market.
He and other bill sponsors wanted Virginia to offer a robust, competitive marketplace. By doing so, Virginians would have no need to go to West Virginia, Tennessee or Washington, DC, where sports betting is also legal and underway.
This past week, though, Sickles introduced HB 1847. As he told fellow lawmakers on Jan. 19:
“The bill I have today is 100 percent technical in that what we have in here … are things we thought we passed last year (with the original bill).”
One key part of the bill would allow Virginia sports bettors to wager on the Olympic Games. The Virginia Lottery, which regulated VA sports betting, interpreted the initial language to ban Olympics betting because some underage athletes compete in the biannual international games.
However, the new bill makes a clear distinction between Olympic competitions with governing bodies – and true youth sports. By doing so, Virginia sportsbook operators could take wagers on the Olympics. However, Virginia’s betting ban for in-state colleges and universities will remain.
The House’s ABC-Gaming subcommittee advanced the substitute, which sent it to the General Laws committee for discussion. There, it passed with a 17-4 vote and now awaits full House consideration.
More Online Sportsbooks in Virginia?
HB 1847 could also expand the number of sportsbooks in Virginia. With the substitute, the VA Lottery could grant five additional online-only licenses.
During a two-week application process in October, 25 hopeful sportsbook companies applied. And now, they could be fighting for more permits than they expected.
In November, four Virginia cities (Bristol, Danville, Norfolk and Portsmouth) voted in favor of allowing casino-resorts. They will begin opening in 2022 and 2023. Richmond voters will vote this year on whether it will be the fifth VA city with a casino.
When those casinos open, they’ll also be able to secure an online sportsbook license. However, Sickles wants to ensure that those licenses, as well as ones involving pro sports teams, don’t count against the imposed max of 12. That means five additional online-only permits could be issued to the casinos.
“That’s the biggest fix,” Sickles said of the new bill.
Other Betting-Related Bills Under Consideration
The ABC-Gaming subcommittee also advanced the following bills:
- HB 1943: This bill assures the Charitable Gaming Board can’t implement regulations to prohibit the use of some multi-screen “electronic pull tab” machines. The bill then subsequently passed the House by a 65-33 vote on Tuesday.
- HB 1812: The largely technical bill provides amendments to the casino gaming law as it relates to its interaction with sports betting law. It includes the clarification that Virginia casino customers will be able to place bets at brick-and-mortar sportsbooks on the property.
- HB 1944: The bill would require casino employees who interact with the public to undergo training to recognize and report suspected human trafficking. The House ultimately passed the bill with a unanimous vote, 99-0.