On the day legal sports betting launched in Virginia, the question was inevitable: Is the Washington Football Team relocating to Virginia?
After all, when FanDuel Sportsbook became the first (and, for a few days, only) operator online in Virginia, onlookers were curious about how the company pulled off the feat.
After all, 24 other hopeful sportsbook operators applied for a shot to take legal sports bets in the Old Dominion. But this past Thursday, on the market’s official launch, the Virginia Lottery issued only one temporary permit. It went to Betfair Interactive US LLC (FanDuel’s parent company).
As officials subsequently touted in press releases, the Jan. 21 rollout marked the country’s first-ever market-access partnership between an online sports gaming platform and an NFL team.
But what does it mean for Virginia and a possible NFL future?
FedEx Field in Virginia?
As part of its sports-betting legislation and licensing procedures, Virginia lawmakers offered “substantial and preferred consideration” to professional sports teams based in Virginia. Given FanDuel’s relationship with the Washington Football Team, whose front office is based in Virginia in the affluent Washington, DC suburb of Ashburn, it earned a competitive advantage.
The WFT and FanDuel are now dual sports-betting permit holders in Virginia.
But is the relationship a precursor to a possible bigger WFT presence in Virginia? Namely, a VA-based football stadium for the NFL team?
Washington currently plays its home games in FedEx Field in Landover, Maryland. The team, though, is said to be exploring options for when that stadium lease is up in 2027.
In addition to the team’s corporate headquarters, Virginia is already home to other WFT facilities. They include the NOVA Sports Performance Center, which is part of the team’s indoor training facility in Ashburn. Additionally, Washington holds its annual training camp at Bon Secours Training Center in the Virginia capital of Richmond.
However, having the 2020 NFC East champions play their home games in Virginia would be a real score. The tourism and tax revenue would be a boon for Virginia’s economy.
Virginia’s good faith for WFT
Washington, DC has legal sports betting, admittedly with some glaring limitations. Maryland also recently legalized sports wagering, though sportsbooks likely won’t be operational there until 2022.
Neither MD nor DC seems especially eager to commit to a new stadium project for the Washington Football Team.
By giving WFT and FanDuel a cut to the front of the line with its sports-betting launch, Virginia could be playing the long game. Or, at least, it could keep the conversations open.
Del. Mark Sickles, who’s been one of sports betting’s biggest champions in Virginia, said no deals have been made with the team. But as he told Richmond.com:
“[It’s a] ‘sign of good faith’ on our part.”
It’s also likely to get the attention of WFT owner Dan Snyder.
A sports betting-friendly NFL owner
Snyder, one of the NFL’s more polarizing executives, courted Virginia lawmakers in 2020 for a potential sports betting license. He also asked about the possibility of opening a retail sportsbook on-site if a stadium were built in Virginia.
The WFT owner was clearly testing the waters to see where his team might get the best deal.
And right now, Virginia has a lot working for it:
- Washington is the most popular NFL franchise in Virginia.
- Virginia has no other professional sports team from the major leagues.
- Sports betting is now fully legal in Virginia, and more operators will be coming online in the next few weeks.
Snyder has made no secret of his willingness to move the team‘s home games to a new stadium for the right opportunity. In recent years, much of that conversation around favorable conditions has focused on sports-betting endeavors.
Like others in the NFL, Snyder realized the opportunity with sports betting, once a big taboo in the league, was too lucrative to pass up. Now, Virginia hopes it can help woo an NFL franchise to a potential new stadium because of it.