A bill recently prefiled in the Virginia General Assembly could increase the number of sports wagering licenses available in the state, which has plans to launch sports betting within the next month.
The HB 1847 legislation will not delay the Virginia Lottery’s launch of online sports betting, but a Lottery spokesperson said that it has yet to approve any potential sports betting operators, Sports Handle reports.
Approximately 25 operators applied for up to 14 currently available licenses. The lottery is aiming to “award the first of the licenses” in the next couple of weeks, according to a Lottery spokesperson. That timing would make it a tight squeeze for an operator to be live in Virginia ahead of the Super Bowl, which is set for February 7.
“In the coming weeks, we expect to begin issuing the first sports betting licenses according to the existing law and regulations,” the Virginia Lottery’s Director of Public Affairs and Community Relations Jennifer Mullen told Sports Handle. “If this proposed legislation is successful and takes effect on July 1, 2021, it potentially would make additional licenses available in the future.”
HB 1847 does not remove the current cap, but it reworks the explanation for which sports betting entities or locations count against the cap. In the year-old sports betting law, the Virginia Lottery was allowed to issue up to 12 licenses, though licenses awarded to pro sports franchises would not count against the maximum number of available licenses. Licenses awarded to casinos, however, would.
Under the current law, the Virginia Lottery could issue up to 14 permits for sports betting — the maximum of 12 plus one each for the NFL’s Washington Football Team, which has its headquarters in Ashburn, and Major League Soccer’s D.C. United, which is moving its team corporate headquarters to Loudoun County and has a practice facility in Springfield. Among the 14 licenses, four would be tethered to casino projects in Bristol, Danville, Portsmouth, and Norfolk, meaning six potential licenses are already accounted for through pro teams or casinos.
If HB 1847 passes, the casinos could be out of the equation on the “maximum” side, and the Lottery could issue an additional four permits. Besides that, any professional sports franchise that has a headquarters or plays a minimum of five regular-season games in the state will get “preferred and substantial consideration” for a sports betting license, so if a Major League Baseball, NBA, or NHL team ever establish roots in Virginia, it would be allowed to apply for a sports betting license.
Currently, Hard Rock (Bristol), Caesars/William Hill (Danville), and Rush Street Gaming (Portsmouth) already have casino deals and with those, market access. Casinos in all three jurisdictions, as well as one in Norfolk, were approved by voters on Nov. 3. A fifth casino project in Richmond is also in the works — and under the new bill also would not count toward the maximum number of licenses.
FanDuel also potentially has market access through its partnership with D.C. United. The company already has plans to operate a sportsbook at the team’s Audi Field in neighboring Washington, D.C.
Multiple operators, including BetMGM, FanDuel, and PointsBet have acknowledged that they have applied for sports betting licenses in Virginia, though the lottery has not released the list of applicants. WynnBet is also betting on having market access via partnerships with NASCAR venues Richmond Raceway and Martinsville Speedway, though NASCAR venues do not get the same “preferred and substantial consideration” as pro sports franchises according to the law.
The bill also spells out that the Virginia Lottery may not offer its own sports betting product at a brick-and-mortar location, and further defines the definition of amateur sports.
The General Assembly has a short session this year, from Jan. 13 to Feb. 11. The bill was referred to the House General Laws Committee’s ABC/Gaming Subcommittee. An identical Senate version has been referred to the Committee for Finance and Appropriations. The bills were introduced by the lawmakers who shepherded sports betting through the General Assembly last year.