When Virginia lawmakers drafted sports betting legislation, they included an aggressive deadline: Have regulations completed by Sept. 15. Two weeks after that legislation became law, the Virginia Lottery posted a timeline that could translate into wagering by the end of the year.
The new timeline calls for a public-comment period on proposed regulations in July-August, rules approved by Sept. 15, and operator applications made available by the end of September. The lottery then has 90 days to approve applications, meaning the first legal sports bet in the state could be placed in late December.
But Virginia enters the world of sports betting with only a lottery in town. The state’s first casinos are permitted by the same law, thus the agency is lacking regulatory experience involving casinos. That’s similar to its neighbors Tennessee and Washington, D.C., which are not home to any casinos.
Tennessee legalized in July 2019 and now plans for operators to go live in July 2020, and Washington, D.C., legalized in early 2019 with no public timeline at the moment for commercial operators to launch sports betting. The D.C. Lottery does have plans to go live with its sports betting app as soon as professional sports — on hiatus during the COVID-19 crisis — return to action.
What’s in the law?
In Virginia, lawmakers and Gov. Ralph Northam went around and around before both chambers passed amended versions of their sports betting bills in a reconvened session on April 22. The new law allows for statewide mobile sports betting with remote registration, includes an “official league data” mandate, and prohibits college prop bets and betting on local college teams. The tax rate on operators will be 15% on gross gaming revenue.
The Lottery has been tasked by the 2020 General Assembly with regulating future casinos & sports betting in Virginia.
Follow the link to learn more about the rule-making process and timelines on when these new forms of gaming will be available. 🎲🏈
👉 https://t.co/jsHvHnBgnF pic.twitter.com/HeUUSw1WXN
— Virginia Lottery (@VirginiaLottery) May 6, 2020
The law also allows for retail sports betting at any professional sports venue in the state (there are currently none, but there is hope that the NFL Washington Redskins will move from Maryland); five retail casinos that were approved by the legislature but require local voter approval; and horse race tracks.
Lawmakers included language with regard to professional sports teams and venues in hopes that the Redskins, who have their practice facility and administrative headquarters in Ashburn, Va., will consider moving to Prince George’s County after their contract for FedEx Field in Landover, Md., expires in 2027.
In addition, lawmakers say the Newport News/Virginia Beach area has been courting an NBA team, and they wanted to leave the door open for any team from the four major professional sports leagues to consider locating in the state.
No. of digital licenses addressed in FAQs
According to the FAQ section on the Lottery’s new sports betting website, legal sports betting won’t be available in Virginia until “mid-to-late December 2020, at the earliest.” Also in that section, this question and answer seem curious, as the law does allow for limited retail sports betting:
Q: Where will I be able to place a legal sports bet?
A: All legal sports betting in Virginia will be conducted through the internet only.
With regard to mobile sports betting, the new law calls for a minimum of four mobile sports betting licenses and a maximum of 12. There has been some question among stakeholders about how the licenses could play out if five are earmarked for casinos and four are earmarked for potential pro sports venues.
But according to the FAQs, licenses awarded to pro teams/venues or casinos would NOT count toward the minimum, and licenses awarded to pro teams/venues would NOT count toward the maximum. Translation? Under any circumstance, there will be at least four stand-alone mobile platforms in addition to those tethered to casinos operating in the state. But there could be as many as 17 mobile licenses (the stated maximum of 12 plus up to five for pro teams/venues) in Virginia, which would create the open, competitive marketplace that benefits bettors.
In addition, of the maximum of 12 mobile licenses written into the law, even if five are earmarked for casinos that means seven remain for stand-alone mobile platforms such as those from DraftKings, FanDuel, PointsBet or any other operator interested in entering the market without being tethered to a casino.
Other questions answered
Among the other questions answered in the FAQs:
- Sports betting revenue will fund problem gaming initiatives (2.5% of state sports betting revenue) and go to the state’s general fund (97.5%);
- Operators must undergo a certification process before launching a mobile platform;
- When created, a list of legal bets will be available on the lottery website;
- As in other states, operators will be able to request that new sports/events be added to the list of legal bets.