Virginia closing in on Legalized Sports Betting in 2019
By Ken Edwards, 01 January 2019
Three Virginia lawmakers are looking to introduce sports betting bills early into the upcoming 45-day legislative session beginning later-this-month.
Neighboring West Virginia has already enacted legal sports wagering, and Virginians are hitting-the-highways in droves to place bets at the sports book in nearby Charles Town, West Virginia. Given the money leaving the north of the state, it is no coincidence at all that the three legislative sports betting legalization proposals that have advanced so far, have originated from lawmakers in Northern Virginia. The North of the state is most affected, where gamblers are leaving the state to spend cash at sportsbooks in West Virginia and even further afield to Delaware, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
One of the three legislators proposing bills in the upcoming Virginian legislative session, Democratic Senator Mark Sickles, even went as far as to unofficially co-title his bill, ‘Keep Virginia’s money in Virginia’. Sickles, who openly admits that he is not a gambler, is worried about Virginians crossing the state line and placing bets in places like West Virginia, Maryland and North Carolina, all of which have casinos.
Sickles’ bill looks at introducing a 15 percent tax on sports gambling revenue, the majority of which would potentially go toward funding major research projects at state universities in Virginia. He estimates that sports betting could possibly boost the state coffers by $41 million annually.
The background to Virginia’s Legislative Discussions
The mid-May 2018 U.S Supreme strike down of the long-standing federal ban on sports betting has allowed for legal sports betting in 8 states, with up to 15 more states-and-regions set to consider the revenue-raising-potential the activity has and legalize it in their jurisdictional areas.
Virginia lawmakers made it clear announcing will be discussed in the General Assembly shortly, taking the first steps down the road to the introduction of legal sports gambling.
Along with Senator Sickles’ bill, two other state legislators have two separate sports betting bills and plan to introduce them during the new legislative session, which is set to start this January and to run for 45 days. Senator Chap Petersen and Marcus Simon are adding their input to Sickles’ recommendations and as a collective group, all are looking to help Virginia board the sports-betting-bandwagon.
Senator Petersen told Virginian media that while the idea of sports gambling in the state is still young and requires details to be ironed out, “the concept itself is going to flow through”. The air of inevitability in the Senator’s tone is great news for the State’s gamblers.
The first signs that there has been some softening of Virginian lawmakers’ gambling opinions appeared in early 2018, when the State Legislature allowed for the introduction of historical-betting-on-horse-races at the state racetracks.
Will College Sports be included in Virginia sports betting?
All three sports betting bills differ in their proposed licensing-and-regulatory frameworks, and on whether gambling would be regulated by the state lottery or another entity. However, the major challenge will be to find common ground on the inclusion of college sports in the sports betting suite of products.
As Virginia has no major professional sports teams, if collegiate sports are excluded, gamblers may continue to travel outside the state or continue to use illegal bookies. Senator Petersen’s proposal bans almost all NCAA gambling, while Sickles said his bill would only bar bets placed on Virginia-based universities and community colleges.
In a peace-making conciliatory tone, Marcus Simon concluded “What all of our bills have in common is the realization that this presents a huge opportunity, and we need to make sure we set the rules and protect our residents,” Amen to that.