Latest Virginia Sports Betting Bill Advances As More Await

Latest Virginia Sports Betting Bill Advances As More Await

Virginia, a state with no casinos, is one step closer to legal sports betting.

Lawmakers have advanced a proposal to legalize and regulate mobile sports betting, the latest move among nearly 20 bills introduced in the commonwealth this year related to wagering on sporting events, offering online lottery ticket sales, legalizing casinos and a host of other gaming-related matters.

Now a state that eschewed most forms of gambling since its founding is having arguably the most robust discussions about the topic of any legislative body in the country. About two dozen states are considering legal sports betting laws and/or additional forms of gambling, but few, if any, are considering as many sweeping proposals as Virginia.

Latest Virginia Bill

Lawmakers Thursday advanced SB 384, an online sports betting bill, out of the Senate General Laws and Technology’s gaming subcommittee. As written, it would permit up to 10 mobile sports betting licenses.

  • Details: The proposal would put mobile sports betting under the Virginia Lottery Board, the state’s most prominent gambling entity. It would impose a 20% tax on gross gambling revenue, one of the higher tax rates in the country. It would also require sports betting operators to use sanctioned data from sports leagues on all-play betting, as long as they reach an agreement under “commercially reasonable terms.”
  • Other Bill: The subcommittee also considered a separate bill that would create an entirely new oversight body for sports betting. The new organization would oversee retail sports betting at a handful of horse tracks and off-track betting locations and would allow several other jurisdictions to open books, if approved by voters in those municipalities. The bill also calls for up to three online licenses, or “skins.” The subcommittee didn’t kill the legislation, meaning it could be reconsidered in coming meetings.
  • Previous Measure: Both bills are alternates to a sweeping bill passed last session that would permit sports betting and online casino gaming under the lottery's oversight. The 2019 bill must be passed by the 2020 legislature before it can come into law, which seems like a formality after it passed by wide margins in both the Senate and House of Delegates last year.
  • Updates: Lawmakers introduced several modifications to the already-passed bill, so it’s still undetermined if lawmakers in 2020 will support the original 2019 version, an updated version, a combination of new and old proposals or sidestep last year’s bill entirely and side with one (or more) of the new bills introduced this year.
  • More Bills: There are also a host of unrelated complimentary (and sometimes competing) measures which would, among other things, allow: the Virginia Lottery to sell tickets through the internet; land-based casinos to open in multiple cities; businesses to offer video lottery terminals; regulations for so-called “gray” gambling machines; and more minor changes, such as permission for charitable organizations to offer Texas Hold’em poker events.
  • Key Point: The appetite for gambling is apparent in Richmond. What remains unknown is what shape the nascent Virginia gambling market will take.

Background

This flurry of legislation comes after gambling, aside from pari-mutuel horse racing and the lottery, went largely ignored in the statehouse for generations.

  • New Developments: As more states began to embrace new gambling offerings such as casinos, Virginia saw millions of dollars of residents’ dollars cross state lines to gambling. This was jammed home by the 2016 opening of Maryland’s MGM National Harbor, strategically located about a mile from the Virginia state line.
  • Opposition Thaws: Beginning with Gov. Terry McAuliffe, who in 2016 became the first governor in the nation to approve codified daily fantasy sports regulations, and more so by his successor, current Gov. Ralph Northam, Virginia’s elected officials have increasingly warmed to legal gambling. Northam was one of the first governors to support historic horse racing, and his support for regulated gambling encouraged fellow Democrats in the General Assembly to follow suit.
  • Power Shift: Even with Republican control in both chambers last session, lawmakers passed the massive sports betting, casino and iGaming bill. Democrats, who have been typically been more favorable toward gambling ventures, won control of both chambers in the commonwealth’s 2019 elections, which should put new gambling ventures on even firmer footing.

Future Developments

All Virginia bills must “cross over” to the opposite chamber by Feb. 11, meaning there’s not much time for action on the commonwealth’s trove of gambling bills. The 2020 session ends March 7, giving gambling legislation backers a short time frame to see their proposals come into law.

  • House of Delegates: Most significant gambling legislation in the House rests with the ABC/Gaming subcommittee within the Committee on General Laws. The full committee is next scheduled to meet Jan. 28, with the gaming subcommittee meeting immediately afterward.
  • Senate: Most of these gaming bills introduced in the Senate are with the General Laws and Technology Committee.
  • Other Chamber: Because of the short sessions, lawmakers for most bills work with a colleague in the opposing chamber to introduce companion legislation. That way lawmakers are already versed on the issue when it crosses over, sparing precious time and helping legislators in both chambers more efficiently pass identical versions of the same bill, which is required before they can pass onto the governor and come into law.
  • Governor: Northam could theoretically veto any bill, but that seems improbable, at least for gambling matters. The governor has supported Democrat-led gambling legislation efforts and seems an unlikely obstacle should lawmakers advance anything out of the General Assembly.
  • Bottom Line: Virginia is moving quickly to become the latest state in the Mid-Atlantic to approve sports betting.

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