Virginia Sports Betting Chances Bolstered by New Bills

Virginia Sports Betting Chances Bolstered by New Bills

A flurry of legislative proposals this month has highlighted momentum for sports betting in Virginia.

Lawmakers introduced a bill last week to legalize sports betting in the commonwealth, Forbes reports. The pre-filed measure by Delegate Mark Sickles formalizes a legislative framework to take bets and assures legalization will, at the very least, be considered next year in the General Assembly. Projections show the Old Dominon could record $5.2 billion in betting handle, accounting to around $380 million in net revenue.

The introduction comes among several publicly supported proposals from lawmakers – and serves as the latest radical development in a state long opposed to most forms of gambling.

Key Sports Betting Legalization Details to be Debated

Though it is sure to face heavy debate in both the House of Delegates and the state Senate, Sickles’ bill lays out baselines for many key issues for sports betting legalization.

The bill provides for online and mobile betting, essentially a necessity in a state that doesn’t currently have any operational casinos, horse tracks, slot parlors or other similar gaming facilities.

It also presents a 15 percent tax rate on winnings, about 50 percent higher than in other states taking bets like New Jersey, West Virginia and Mississippi, all of which tax around 10 percent of winnings.

It is however significantly less than in Pennsylvania and Rhode Island, both of which began taking bets earlier this month. These fees in part delayed implementation, and industry observers fear similarly exorbitant fees could do the same for other states considering legalization.

Sickles’ bill would give oversight authority to the Virginia Lottery, far and away the state’s largest gaming entity in terms of revenue.

It doesn’t call for a royalty or what professional sports leagues have called an “integrity fee,” which is a cut of revenue returned to the leagues.

Why this pre-filed bill outlines the most comprehensive designs for legal sports betting, other lawmakers have a keen interest on the subject. State Sen. Chap Petersen said he intends to introduce a bill that would differ from Sickles’ in several ways, including access to sports betting through land-based facilities.

There is sure to be extensive debate on any and all proposals when lawmakers reconvene for the 2019 legislative session, with essentially any aspect subject to change. Still, the attention sports betting legalization has garnered is already a major change to a state that has largely shunned gambling for most of its history.

Virginia Gambling Attitudes Continue Massive Shift

Since New Jersey introduced commercial casinos to the east coast in the 1970’s and Congress permitted Native American tribes to allow gaming on federally recognized lands in the 1980’s, more than 40 states have opened some sort of gambling facility. Virginia is not among them.

The state, which had hosted horse racing for centuries, lost its last remaining commercial betting horse track earlier this decade. With the notable exception of the state lottery, there have been few gaming opportunities in the Old Dominion and little momentum to make a chance.

That began to shift in the 2017 elections when voters sent Gov. Ralph Northam and a crop of new, more gambling-friendly legislators in the House of Delegates to Richmond. For the first time in contemporary history, gambling had the political capital and an influx of open-minded allies in the Virginia government.

Elected officials passed a historical horse racing legalization bill, becoming one of a handful of states to approve the games. That in turn sparked Colonial Downs, the previously shuttered horse track, to announce plans to re-open.

Meanwhile, the Pamunkey Native American tribe is preparing to open the state’s first-ever Native American casino in the southeastern corner of the state after it was permitted to do so by the federal government. At the same time, local authorities are pushing for the state’s first-ever commercial casino in Bristol, located along the Tennessee border in the commonwealth’s far southwestern corner.

These developments in part reflect a more nuanced view toward gambling among Virginians. It also reflects the growing revenue threat from its neighbors.

New Jersey has long spearheaded gambling developments on the eastern seaboard, leading neighboring states like New York, Delaware and Pennsylvania to follow suit. This has had a domino effect on other states in the region, including Maryland, which shares a border with Northern Virginia, the most populous region in the commonwealth.

MGM National Harbor, located adjacent to the Virginia border, has highlighted Maryland’s thriving casino industry, which sees a significant amount of revenue from visitors traversing the Potomac River. That’s money Virginia officials realize could be kept within its own border with its own gaming options.

With gambling expansion further invigorated by the Supreme Court decision earlier this year to strike down the federal ban on sports betting, a majority of Mid-Atlantic, New England and Midwestern states have all considered legalizing this new form of gaming. The formal introduction of a bill now assures Virginia will be among them.