New Virginia Bill Seeks More Licensed Sportsbook Operators

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A bill recently filed in the Virginia General Assembly seeks to increase the number of sports betting licenses available in the state, which is set to launch next month. However, HB 1847 will not delay the state lottery’s plans of digital sports betting ahead of the Super Bowl. But according to a lottery spokesperson, the regulators have yet to approve any potential sports betting operators.

As many as 25 sportsbook operators have applied for licenses to offer Virginia sports betting against 14 available licenses. The licensing authority plans to “award the first of the licenses” by the new few weeks, according to the lottery official. However, the timing would be critical for an operator to launch in Virginia ahead of the Super Bowl, which kicks off in February.

The Virginia Lottery’s Director of Public Affairs and Community Relations Jennifer Mullen said, “In the coming weeks, we hope to begin issuing the first sports wagering licenses according to the current law and regulations.” Mullen added that if the proposed legislation is successful and takes effect on July 1, 2021, it would make “additional licenses available in the future.”

What is the Existing Situation?

HB 1847 does not seek to remove the existing cap but reworks the explanation for which sports wagering entities or locations count against the cap.

In the Virginia sports betting law that was passed in 2020, the state lottery was authorized to issue up to 12 licenses. However, unlike casinos, the licenses awarded to professional sports franchises would not count against the maximum number of available licenses. Therefore, under the existing law, the Virginia Lottery could issue no more than 14 permits for sports betting, the maximum for 12 plus one each for the National Football League’s team and Major League Soccer’s DC United. Among the 14 licenses, four would be linked to casino projects in Danville, Bristol, Portsmouth, and Norfolk, suggesting six potential licenses are already booked by pro teams or casinos.

If the proposed measure passes, the casinos could be out of the equation on the “maximum” side, and the regulatory authority could issue additional four permits. Furthermore, any pro sports franchise with headquarters or that plays a minimum of five regular-season games in the state will be preferred and get “substantial consideration” for a sports betting license, meaning if an NBA, MLB, or NHL team ever established roots in the Old Dominion, it would be allowed to apply for a sports wagering license.

Four Sportsbook Giants Have Already Market Access

Currently, William Hill (Danville), Hard Rock (Bristol), and Rush Street Gaming (Portsmouth) already have casino agreements and the consequent market access. In addition to one in Norfolk, casinos in these three jurisdictions were given the go-ahead by voters on November 3. New York-based FanDuel also has market access via its partnership with DC United. The online sports betting giant intends to operate a sportsbook at the team’s Audi Field in Washington DC.

Several other operators, including BetMGM and PointsBet, have revealed that they have applied for sports betting licenses in Virginia. However, the lottery has not publicized the list of applicants. WynnBET, a joint venture of Wynn Resort and UK firm BetBull, has also applied for market access through a partnership with NASCAR venues Martinsville Speedway and Richmond Raceway. However, according to the law, NASCAR venues do not get the “substantial consideration” as pro sports franchises.

Another casino project in Richmond is also underway, and under the new bill, it would not count toward the maximum number of licenses.

The Bill Must Pass During This Year’s Shorter Session

The General Assembly will convene for a shorter session this year, from January 13 to February 11. Last Tuesday, the bill was referred to the House General Laws Committee’s Gaming Subcommittee. A carbon copy of its Senate Version has been referred to the concerned Committee for Finance and Appropriations.

These bills were introduced by the same lawmakers who backed sports betting through the General Assembly in 2020. Among other things, the bill stipulates that the state lottery may not offer its own sports wagering product at a land-based location and further defines what amateur sport is.

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