As things currently stand, Virginia sports betting is legal as long as wagers are not placed on teams or players from the Commonwealth. However, this may change in the near future as a new bill introduced in the Virginia General Assembly proposes to legalize college sports wagers on in-state teams.
Senate Bill 124, sponsored by Sen. Schuyler VanValkenburg, the bill will open a world of opportunities for state players to wager on teams from universities such as Virginia Tech and the University of Virginia. Senate Bill 124 was introduced in the House on Jan. 10 and seeks to eliminate the ongoing prohibition on “a college sports event in which a Virginia public or private institution of higher education is a participant.” According to the bill, the prohibition on youth sports betting will remain in effect.
Both retail and online sports betting were legalized in Virginia on July 1, 2020. The first-ever legal bet in the state was placed on FanDuel Sportsbook on Jan. 21, 2021. Like many other states, Virginia placed significant restrictions on wagers involving in-state college sports. At the time, it was said that the restrictions were placed due to the potential of college athletes being bribed or manipulating game outcomes to impact wagers.
Sen. Schuyler VanValkenburg believes that people are already wagering on Virginia college sports and resort to either traveling to other states or entering illegal wagers on offshore sportsbooks. Speaking on the development, he said: “You can ban it, but people are still going to do it. The fear that this is going to corrupt or put pressure on Virginia athletes is already there. We’re already living in that world.”
Virginia Lawmakers Seek to Throttle Illegal Wagers
Those in support of the bill argue that it is safer to legalize and regulate gambling since people are already wagering on Virginia college teams from other states. Since sports betting was legalized in 2021, it has rapidly grown into a large market. In Nov. 2023, Virginia residents wagered $639 million, breaking the record monthly gaming revenue in the state, according to Bet Virginia.
Since legalization, Virginia has only made a minor change to its sports betting ecosystem. In 2022, a budget provision to limit the time that operators can deduct the cost of free bets was enforced, providing a maximum of one year for the operators to make deductions. This change was pushed through without requiring a bill and addressed a critical loophole that operators took advantage of to deduct promotional funds over an indefinite period of time. Soon after the change was enforced, betting tax revenues increased by more than 60% in the state.
Proponents of betting argue that since North Carolina is changing its stance on college sports, Virginia may lose out on an opportunity to gain some additional revenue, especially with busy betting periods such as March Madness around the corner. If passed, Senate Bill 124 would not allow all types of college bets on Virginia college sports. The bill does not aim to legalize prop bets, which will remain illegal in Virginia.
According to Rich Hamlin, a former boys’ basketball coach at Trinity Episcopal School, high-level college athletes can make money legally on their name, image, and likeness, which disincentivizes them from indulging in bribes or corruption, as it could jeopardize their careers in the long run.
Virginia Aims to Consolidate Multiple Gambling Agencies
The Virginia Lottery oversees all casino and sports betting activity in the state, while other forms are gambling are regulated by separate agencies. In 2023, the state’s Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission recommended consolidating these multiple agencies into a single entity. According to VanValkenburg, the state is still working to perfect its regulatory framework.
Currently, sports gambling is dominated by a handful of operators in Virginia. While 17 operators are authorized to accept bets, three platforms controlled 80% of the market in the first 11 months of 2023.
Last year, a different bill entered deliberations, aiming to tighten tax regulations on sports betting operators. Senate Bill 1142, if passed, would have placed gradual deductions on operators, lowering the amount from 2.5% to 1.75%. However, the bill was tabled in Appropriations and never made it through into law.