Sports Handle has learned that Virginia lawmakers are close to an agreement on what sports betting will look like in the state with plans to get a revamped bill onto the House and Senate floors within the next few days. The legislative session ends at midnight on Saturday.
According to a source, and confirmed by House bill sponsor Mark Sickles, a House and Senate conference committee was able to iron out key details between HB 896 and SB 384, which passed their respective chambers last month. The bill that will move forward would allow for pre-game and live in-game wagering on college sports — which was prohibited in the initial House bill — but would ban prop bets on college sports, and the tax rate would be set at 17.5%, which is a compromise between the 15% the Senate was seeking and the 20% the House was seeking.
“I’m very pleased,” Sickles told Sports Handle Thursday. “I’m very optimistic. If for some reason we don’t pass it, we’ll go back to conference.”
Will allowing college sports betting cost votes?
Both of the original bills allow for state-wide mobile but do have a mandate for sportsbooks to use official league data.
In the House, the main concession Sickles made in conference is allowing for betting on college sports. He has some concern that he could lose votes over giving that up, but as states across the nation are finding, the so-called “college carve out” of local teams may not prove to be terribly effective if bettors can go over the border and place a bet.
Virginia's sports betting bill seems to be good to go, but the House doesn't want any bets on college games involving Virginia schools.
The Senate plan doesn't have that exclusion.https://t.co/zQ2xgsKCVM
— Graham Moomaw (@gmoomaw) March 5, 2020
For example, if Virginia did pass a law that prohibits betting on Virginia college teams, that wouldn’t stop bettors from going to West Virginia, which has live, legal sports betting, to place a bet on a Virginia team. Virginia is also bordered by Washington, D.C. and Tennessee, both of which have legalized sports betting, but it is not yet live.
The revised bill, which will have two bill numbers on it, still needs the signatures of the six lawmakers who conferenced before it can go to the floor in both chambers as early as Friday. Sickles said there are a few tiny details still to iron out, but he expects a vote before the session closes at midnight on Saturday.
“We’re close on the bill,” Sickles said. “We have to get it signed off on,” and then it will go to vote.
Casinos could roll out mobile first
The new bill would give what is referred to as “substantial preference” to casinos for online/mobile sports betting. There are currently no brick-and-mortar casinos in Virginia, but there is a possibility that one approved in Bristol could open by the end of the year. There are several other proposed casinos awaiting passage of a separate casino bill. Sickles said that if any of these casinos are “prequalified” — meaning it’s a sure thing they’d be built — they will be granted the option to roll out mobile sports betting ahead of retail. A related provision is in the works for pro sports teams that have their headquarters in Virginia.
At present, only the Redskins are headquartered in Virginia, but the Hampton Roads area of the state has been lobbying for an NBA team. The Redskins have been shopping for a location for a new stadium after their commitment at Landover, Md. ends in 2027, and have been lobbying lawmakers in both Virginia and Maryland to be included in sports betting when they relocate. The legislation makes the provision for a team in any of the five major professional sports leagues — NFL, NBA, Major League Baseball, NHL, and Major League Soccer.
Sports betting is one step closer to becoming a reality in Maryland. 9 sports gambling licenses would be granted and one would go to the Redskins, but only under one condition. @ABC7GMW pic.twitter.com/DPRxMCwFcf
— John Gonzalez (@ABC7John) March 5, 2020
The previous versions of the bills were also at odds with regard to how many mobile licenses should be issued. The House bill called for a minimum of four and a maximum of 12 while the Senate bill had those numbers at six and 10. The latest bill will follow the House’s plan.
The last key change is that the latest version of sports betting would not allow a sports betting operator to partner with a business with an ABC license, which is the lawmakers’ way of keeping sportsbooks from cropping up around the state at restaurants and bars. Throughout the process, lawmakers have been trying to provide a somewhat narrow path to sports betting, in hopes of keeping it online and in specific venues, such as sportsbooks or professional sports stadiums.
- The Virginia Lottery would be the regulator and would be required to promulgate rules by Sept. 15, 2020
- The Lottery would have 60 days to approve licenses after regulations are approved
- 2.5% of gross gaming revenue would be earmarked for problem gaming initiatives