Virginia is for lovers… of straight bets or 8-team multi-sport parlays. In March of 2020, the Virginia General Assembly and Senate passed SB 384 and HB 896 to bring legal sports betting to the state. A few weeks later, Gov. Ralph Northam sent amended versions of the bills back to lawmakers, who approved them in a reconvened session on April 22, 2020, which officially legalized sports betting in Virginia.
The hope now is that Virginians — and visitors from Washington D.C., Maryland or anywhere else — may be able to place online wagers by early 2021. The Virginia Lottery in May 2020 released a timeline for approving sports betting regulations and opening the application process for sportsbooks and vendors to obtain licensure. After releasing two sets of proposed regulations and hearing from stakeholders, the lottery approved final regulations on Sept. 15, 2020.
Since then, the rules have been posted in the Virginia Register and the lottery then opened its application window, receiving 25 applications during the two-week span, Oct. 15-31, 2020. Among the applicants are BetMGM, DraftKings, FanDuel, and PointsBet, while Hard Rock, Rush Street and William Hill/Caesars are all already partnered with casinos, giving them market access.
In November before the House of Delegates Appropriations Committee, Lottery Director Kevin Hall said he’s aiming for an early 2021 launch of mobile/online sports betting with retail sports betting and casinos ready to go live in the spring of 2022. Voters approved four brick-and-mortar casinos on the Nov. 3 ballot.
Online and mobile sportsbook apps in Virginia
So which online and mobile sportsbooks might be coming to Virginia? The short answer is “quite possibly most of ‘em,” based on the fact up to 17 sportsbooks are allowed in the state, and even New Jersey – which was first to market and offers a good business environment for sportsbook operators – has “only” about 18 online sportsbooks currently operating under a law that would allow up to 42.
Are there any sure-thing sportsbooks to arrive in Virginia? The short answer is yes, since Hard Rock (Bristol), Rush Street Interactive (Portsmouth), and William Hill/Caesars (Danville) already have market access through newly approved casinos. You can most likely expect those on following list, as they have been aggressive in getting a foothold in as many jurisdictions as possible. Virginia’s licensing fees and tax rate (15% on gross gaming revenue) are in the “medium” range, comparing with rates nationwide, and the population is on the high end (12th overall at roughly 8.5 million), so it will be a very desirable market to enter.
How many online sportsbooks in VA?
There could be up to 14 mobile platforms, according to the Lottery — some stand alone and some tethered to casinos — in Virginia when all is said and done. The text of the law reads that the state will have a minimum of four mobile books and a maximum of 12. But those numbers aren’t as firm as they appear. By the Lottery’s count, Virginia will have a minimum of 11 online/mobile apps (neither the five proposed casinos nor the two current pro teams with footholds in Virginia count to the minimum) and up to 14 (the two pro teams don’t count against the cap).
Why? According to the text in the law and the FAQs section on the Virginia Lottery’s new sports betting site, 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 or to the Washington NFL and MLS teams, both of which have facilities in Virginia. But there could be as many as 14 mobile licenses (the stated maximum of 12 plus two pro teams/venues) in Virginia, which would create the open, competitive marketplace that benefits bettors. As time goes on, the maximum number could go up to 17 because the law allows for major professional teams (read: Major League Baseball, NBA or NHL in addition to the existing NFL and MLS locations) with venues in Virginia to offer sports betting. In addition, WynnBet has partnered with two auto raceways, which it views as giving it market access.
So while we can’t say with certainty that the following sportsbooks will apply for and gain VA sports betting licenses, many of them will. Here’s a partial list:
- Barstool Sportsbook
- DraftKings Sportsbook
- FanDuel Sportsbook
- FOX Bet
- William Hill/Caesars
Voters in the cities of Bristol, Danville, Portsmouth, Norfolk, and Richmond all approved retail casinos on Nov. 3. There is a possibility of a fifth casino in Richmond, however, that city is on a different timeline, and likely won’t put the question of whether or not to allow a casino to voters until 2021.
Several cities have already selected partners and begun planning. Here’s a look at the deals so far:
- The city of Bristol has partnered with coal industrialist, Jim McGlothlin who wants to open the Hard Rock Bristol Resort and Casino with Hard Rock as an equity partner;
- The city of Danville has selected Caesars Entertainment as its gaming partner with plans to build a conference center, live-entertainment venue and casino with a sportsbook;
- The city of Norfolk has agreed to sell land to the Pamunkey Indian Tribe, which has plans to build a casino resort in near Harbor Park, but a potential partner has not yet been announced
- The tribe also purchased land in the city of Richmond in August 2020 with plans to build a casino project;
- The Portsmouth City Council already voted to allow Chicago-based gambling company Rush Street Gaming LLC to build a 50-acre resort and casino near the city’s Tidewater Community College camps.
“I promise you we will build something you’ll be proud of,” said Rush Street Gaming chairman and co-founder Neil Bluhm, a real estate billionaire whose firm operates casinos in Pennsylvania, Illinois, New Jersey, and Colorado. “We couldn’t be more thrilled that you’ve selected us to develop a terrific entertainment district facility.”
Rush Street Gaming
Bluhm’s Rush Street would bring the BetRivers Sportsbook to Virginia, or at least the Rush Street Interactive software that powers BetRivers.
Another group to watch out for is the MGM Resorts International, as it is expected the Maryland-based MGM National Harbor will certainly take a financial hit should five casinos pop up in Virginia. A legislative study in Virginia showed roughly 30% of MGM’s income comes from Virginia residents.
And let’s not forget the NFL’s Washington Football Team, which is actively shopping for a new home once its lease for FedEx Field in Landover, Md. ends in 2027. The team already has headquarters in Virginia, making it eligible for a sports betting license. The MLS DC United has a practice facility in the state, so it, too is eligible.
Virginia is now in the running to host the NFL stadium, because the law permits Virginia-based professional stadiums or major professional teams with headquarters in Virginia to obtain licensure to run brick-and-mortar and online sportsbooks. Washington owner Dan Snyder has made it clear that’s what he wants. The team currently plays at FedEx Field, and it’s possible that Maryland pro teams will be able to host sports betting, as well. Voters there legalized sports betting on Nov. 3, but with no framework, though lawmakers were discussing the details before their session was shortened by the pandemic. Should the legislature opt to allow betting a pro venues, Snyder will be better armed to decide how to proceed and could potentially be able to offer sports betting in both states, if the team has a foot in each.
According to the new law, up to five professional sports teams/venues could offer retail and mobile sports wagering — one each from Major League Baseball, the NBA, the NHL, the NFL, and Major League Soccer. For now, though, the Lottery is only considering the two with Virginia facilities to be in the mix.
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Carve-outs for college sports
Sports betting in Virginia will look similar to most other states, with two notable exceptions, both regarding college sports.
First up, you won’t be able to wager on any and all Virginia college and university action. This is similar to New Jersey’s law, where in-state collegiate betting markets are closed. It would have been frustrating or problematic during the Virginia Cavaliers’ NCAA men’s college basketball championship run in 2019.
Regulating the whole operation will be the Virginia Lottery, and that outfit has until Sept. 15, 2020 to issue guidelines for would-be operators.
An additional wrinkle in the Virginia legalization push is the state of sports wagering in the nation’s capital. In 2019, it was was legalized in Washington, D.C., and in late May after multiple delays, including the COVID-19 crisis, the D.C. Lottery launched its “GamBetDC” sportsbook app. The app was ready in late March, but the Lottery opted not to launch it with pro sports suspended during the COVID-19 crisis beginning March 2020. There does not appear to be a public timeline for the launch of commercial sports betting yet.
In August, the nation’s first sportsbook inside a pro sports venue opened when William Hill began taking bets at its new Capital One Arena location. The venue is home to the NBA Wizards and NHL Capitals.
Additionally, the only District-wide online operator at this time is the DC Lottery, operating a system via Intralot, which has already rolled out an abominable product in Montana.
Brick-and-mortar sportsbooks in D.C.?
They’ll be coming at the big arenas and ballparks, including at Capital One Arena, as well as bars and restaurants able to apply for individual licenses. It looks and feels like a big mess right now, and the transient population around the D.C. area means Virginia-based sportsbooks would likely take a big slice of the action.
Meanwhile, Virginia’s legalization may also pull some customers from West Virginia, which legalized sports betting in March of 2018. DraftKings, FanDuel, and BetMGM all have online sportsbooks there, and there are five brick-and-mortar operations at all the existing casinos and racetracks.
As noted above, Maryland residents approved a bare-bones measure to legalize sports betting, leaving key decisions up to lawmakers and regulators going forward. Unlike Virginia, Maryland already has six operating casinos and a gaming control agency.
While no announcements have been made yet, it’s safe to assume sportsbooks will utilize most or all of the same banking options in Virginia as in other states. These include the following, though not all sportsbooks utilize all of these options.
- Online banking
- Cash at the casino cages
- Site-specific prepaid debit cards
- Paper check
Frequently asked questions
Is sports betting legal in the state of Virginia?
Yes, but regulations need to be finalized, and sportsbooks need to obtain licenses before bets can be placed. Best guess scenarios would allow for online sports betting to be up and running at some point in February or March 2021.
Who can place a real-money sports bet in Virginia?
Anyone aged 21 or older within Virginia state limits will be able to place a wager.
How many online sportsbooks will be available in Virginia?
Anywhere between four and 18, depending on what the Virginia Lottery decides.
Will mobile sportsbooks offer bonuses for new players?
Based on their activities in other states, almost certainly.
How will I deposit online?
Depends, but a safe bet will be using methods such as PayPal, ACH transfer and prepaid cards.
What bet types and betting markets will be available?
To be determined, but it’s reasonable to expect all sports and bet types that are currently available in other states will be available in Virginia. Two notable exceptions: Wagering on games involving Virginia collegiate teams will not be allowed, and live betting on any college game will also be prohibited.
What is the history of sports betting in Virginia?
Less than two months after PASPA was overturned, the Virginia Secretary of Finance Aubrey Layne predicted sports gambling was headed to the state. And he was right!
How legal sports betting came to be in Virginia
Legal sports betting’s arrival in Virginia may come as a bit of a surprise to many residents. After all, Virginia has been one of the few states where there are currently zero casinos, commercial or tribal, operating in the state.
Virginia does, however, have a rich history of horse racing, dating back to the first settlers. (Despite the Puritan nature of the times, horse racing has always been a thing in Virginia.) But outside of Virginia voters bringing the lottery to town in 1987, gambling in Virginia has been relatively barren compared to other states.
And then in the spring of 2018, when PASPA was overturned, sports betting in the Old Dominion state began its relatively quick journey from idea to actuality.
The first bill was put forward in November of 2018, and much of it came to pass, namely the 15% tax, the $250,000 operator fee, and the ban on betting on Virginia collegiate sports. One key difference: The original bill, written by Delegate Mark Sickles, would have only allowed for five operators.
The VA sports betting law
The new laws specifically calls for a minimum of four and maximum of 12 sports betting permits to be issued at any one time (with a maximum of 17 total) and that the amount issued should “maximize tax revenue.”
Reading between the lines, it would certainly appear the legislature is keen to get a competitive marketplace up and running sooner than later.
Would-be operators would be on a sliding scale for a three-year license. The bills originally called for a flat $250,000 license fee, but among Northam’s amendment was one that calls for a $50,000 fee per principal within an organization. A principal is defined as someone who has a 5% or more ownership stake in a company. The tax rate is set at 15%.
The bill requires a couple things that the pro sports leagues have lobbied for — a requirement for “official league data,” which is dissected and criticized here, as well as the requirement that sportsbooks provide leagues with “real-time” data, which is another onerous provision.
Lottery officials say the goal is for the first sports bet to be placed in Virginia by the early 2021. The timeline is somewhat aggressive, considering that neither D.C. nor Tennessee, both of which legalized last year and have no casino infrastructure, do not yet have live sports betting. But Virginia regulators have been moving quickly and efficiently to make it happen.
This page will be updated with developments as they occur.