A new Virginia sports betting bill would completely prohibit betting on collegiate sports, tax operators at 10 percent of adjusted gross revenue and defines a “sports betting platform,” but does not otherwise appear to address mobile or online wagering. The bill is the second pre-filed in the Virginia General Assembly, which opens its new session today.
Senator Chapman Petersen (D-District 34) has been promising sports betting legislation since late 2018, and filed his SB 1238 on Jan. 5. It has been referred to the Committee on General Laws and Technology. The bill, called the “Virginia Sports Gaming Tuition Act,” would create the Virginia Sports Betting Department as the regulatory body.
Also of particular note in the bill, Petersen will require that sports betting be legalized on a local basis. According to the text of the bill, “A locality may authorize sports betting if a referendum approving the question is held.” The bill goes on to detail how a “locality” would legalize sports betting. Counties and even cities, it appears, will be able to vote to legalize, and the bill allows for special elections to be called to do so.
Virginia lacks gaming infrastructure
Though not quite sports betting, Louisiana recently legalized daily fantasy sports on a local basis when it voted parish by parish in November on a daily fantasy referendum.
“I wrote the bill kind of to be tailored to our existing state law in Virginia,” Peterson told Matt Joseph on 99.5 ESPN on Tuesday during an interview. “We have an existing infrastructure of racetracks and off-track betting or OTBs, and I would make all of those sites automatically eligible to host sports betting, and then what I would do is really by local option.”
Chapman’s bill is significantly different from the bill filed in November by Representative Mark Sickles (D-District 43). While Sickles’ bill appears to allow for mobile and internet sports betting, Chapman’s defines a sports betting platform as “a website, app, or other platform accessible via the Internet or mobile, wireless, or similar communications technology that sports bettors use to place sports bets.” But other than defining the term, mobile and online sports betting are not mentioned in the text of the bill.
Chapman said on 99.5 ESPN that his bill is based on having “site-specific venues.”
Though betting on college sports is prohibited in the first draft of the bill, Chapman understands that the bill will likely undergo changes as it makes its way through the legislature, but he said he doesn’t believe there is enough “oversight or protections against corruption” in amateur sports, so while he’d be open to allowing sports betting on “big-time” sports like college football and basketball, he’d prefer to prohibit betting on most college sports.
Chapman’s 10 percent tax rate is lower than the 15 percent Sickles proposed, and Sickles’ bill includes a cap on the number of sports betting licenses that would be available while Chapman’s does not.
In either case, Virginia does not have a mature gaming infrastructure. The state has no casinos and only a handful of live horse-racing tracks, and off-track betting establishments. For any brick-and-mortar sportsbooks or physical locations to place a wager, lawmakers will have to determine whether to limit to these sorts of facilities, of if they are open to sports betting in restaurants, bars or corner stores.
Pressure to legalize?
Chapman clearly feels some pressure to legalize, as nearby states have been among the first movers. Delaware was the first state to launch legal sports betting after the Supreme Court overturned PASPA in May. Since then, neighboring West Virginia has launched sports betting, and Washington, D.C. legalized it on Dec. 18.
“Yes, there is a sense of urgency for me,” he said. “We’re losing business, we’re losing tax revenue, we’re losing entertainment dollars, so yeah, my goal is to keep it in state.”
Among the other key points in the bill:
- $5,000 application fee and a $1,000 annual renewal fee;
- 50 percent of tax revenue will be earmarked for the “locality within which it was generated”;
- 45 percent of tax revenue will be funneled to the Virginia Foundation for Community College Education Fund;
- And 2.5 percent each will be earmarked for problem gambling and the Sports Betting Operations Fund, which would be created under the bill and used to fund the state’s cost of sports betting.