On Monday, the Virginia House and Senate passed legal sports betting bills that resemble, but don’t mirror each other. And though things are going to look a little messy for the new few weeks, one key bill sponsor isn’t worried about getting a bill to Governor Ralph Northam.
“It’s just got to go to conference,” Delegate Mark Sickles told Sports Handle. “(The Senate bill) will go to the House and we will reject it, and send it back or put my bill on top of it and send it back, (they’ll) do the same, and then we’ll call for a conference. It will be easy.”
The bills are in alignment on many key points, but the sticking points could be a pro stadium issue and the college “carve out” that Sickles has in his bill, which calls for prohibitions preventing wagering on Virginia college teams and in-play betting on all college sports. The Senate bill allows for both.
College carve out the key issue
“It’s a little tricky on college sports,” Sickles said. “The argument against my bill is that it isn’t going to stop anyone from doing it. So, I don’t know whether I am going to cave on that.”
Sickles is referring to the idea that prohibiting betting on college sports still allows the illicit market to thrive, as bettors will continue to wager off-shore if they can’t do it legally. He included the college carve out as a way to get his bill through the House, but stakeholders, and likely Senate sponsor Jeremy McPike, will make the argument that it’s necessary to allow betting on all sports and not just some in order to stamp out the black market.
The stadium issue is one that has garnered plenty of attention, in part because the Redskins are lobbying to be included in sports betting talks in both Maryland and also in Virginia. The team, which currently plays at FedEx Field in Landover, Maryland, is seeking a site to build a new stadium. According to the Washington Post, owner Dan Snyder has spent considerable effort trying to convince both states to help him do that, and now to allow that stadium to have sports betting.
‘It’s whatever you want. Yes yes yes.’ -The Redskins negotiations w/Virginia https://t.co/V2eDxsqqwQ
— danny rouhier (@funnydanny) February 9, 2020
The Virginia Senate bill calls for sports betting at pro venues that break ground on or after July 1, 2020, which seems to apply some pressure for construction plans. The House bill is less stringent. The text in that reads, “The Director shall issue a permit to operate a sports betting facility only to a qualified applicant that is also a major league sports franchise.”
The issue is particularly relevant in the area as Washington, D.C. was the first jurisdiction to legalize retail (or in-person) sports betting at pro sports facilities, and Capital One Arena, home of the NBA’s Washington Wizards and Washington Capitals of the NHL, is on the verge of being the first do so. Major League Baseball’s Washington Nationals may also have a sportsbook on site at Nationals Park, leaving the Redskins as the only pro team in the area potentially unable to offer one.
Tax rates, license limits also in question
Right now, though, lawmakers must hammer out all the differences in their bills, which also include differing tax rates — 15% in the Senate bill and 20% in the House bill, and limits on the number of mobile licenses that could be, or would required to be, issued. Both should be fairly simple to resolve, as the tax rates aren’t too far apart, though both are higher than potential operators prefer, and the difference in the number of mobile licenses is close.
Sickles said he expected negotiations to start immediately. The General Assembly has only three more weeks to sort things out, and red tape to cut through. Sickles said both sides must reject the other’s bill and send it back before real progress can be made, but the option likely exists for one chamber to accept the other’s bill as is, or potentially amend a bill and send it back to the originating chamber. Whatever the pathway, the goal is clearly to get a bill on Northam’s desk. Sources say it’s likely he’d sign, and last year he did sign a casino-study bill.
Virginia lawmakers are also moving casino gaming forward in this General Assembly, but Sickles says sports betting has been “successfully” separated from that conversation, so it could advance on its own.