Virginia College Sports Betting Bill Aims to Allow In-State Team Wagers

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Virginia State Senator Schuyler VanValkenburg (D-72) has introduced Senate Bill 124 (SB124), aiming to change Virginia sports betting’s rules on in-state college sports wagering.

The University of Virginia Cavaliers men’s basketball team plays state rivals Virginia Tech on Wednesday, January 17. But bettors in the state cannot put any wagers on the much-anticipated match.

Van Valkenburg’s move seeks to overturn the prohibition on college sports betting that was established when Virginia legalized sports betting in 2020. The Old Dominion joins the Massachusetts, Illinois and New Jersey sports betting markets in limiting bets on in-state college teams.

The bill is still in the committee stage for now. A similar proposal failed in 2022. But VanValkenburg thinks this time could be different.

“I’m hopeful that with time having passed, we’ll be able to get another look at it, and we’ll be able to get it through,” VanValkenburg said.

This proposed change comes shortly after National Collegiate Athletic Association President Charlie Baker spoke at length about college sports and betting in front of NCAA members in Phoenix, Arizona.

The Rationale Behind the Proposed Change

The rationale behind SB124 revolves around the acknowledgment of existing betting on in-state college teams via offshore sportsbooks, or simply traveling across state lines to use Kentucky sports betting platforms. Neighboring North Carolina is set to legalize sports betting later in 2024, and won’t have any college betting restrictions.

Despite the current ban, illicit wagering persists, leading VanValkenburg to advocate for bringing these activities under regulatory oversight.

“You can ban it, but people are still going to do it,” VanValkenburg said. “The fear that this is going to corrupt or put pressure on Virginia athletes, that’s already there. We’re already living in that world.”

The Senator also pointed out that state sports bettors can already place futures bets on other teams to win NCAA tournaments – so this is essentially an indirect bet against Virginia teams winning. This creates a complicated and potentially unfair situation, the Senator argues, which he says would be best solved by dropping the prohibition altogether.

However, an essential element of SB124 is the continuation of the rules against prop betting involving Virginia college players. This is aimed at protecting student-athletes from undue harassment.

Athlete harassment is a national issue. But so far, only regulators for Ohio sports betting have been given extra powers by regulators to deal with it. In 2023, the state passed a law giving the Ohio Casino Control Commission the ability to ban abusive bettors from placing wagers at any sportsbook in the state.

The NCAA, which already has stringent rules on athletes and staff betting on college sports, is also conducting a long-term study into the issue with its partner, Signify.

Benefits and Regulation

The passage of SB124 could notably impact Virginia’s betting market, given the large fan bases of in-state college teams. Unlike some other states that restrict college sports betting in a similar way, Virginia does not have any huge professional sports teams – meaning its biggest fan bases are for college sports.

The potential increase in betting handle if in-state team wagers are legalized could lead to a rise in state tax revenue. Virginia’s sports betting market already takes some $500 million in bets a month, translating to roughly $7 million in tax revenues.

However, VanValkenburg says he’s not influenced entirely by dollar signs. He says the main aim of this bill is to encourage all sports bettors to use the regulated and monitored in-state market.

“That’s a secondary benefit, in this case,” VanValkenburg said. “To be honest, I would be okay with our general fund not depending on gambling at all. For me, it’s mostly about the regulation and monitoring component of it.”

The legislative session in Virginia is set to conclude on March 9, giving lawmakers a finite time frame to deliberate on the bill.

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