Not Done Yet: VA Gov. Sends Sports Betting Bill Back To Legislature With Wish List

Posted on April 15, 2020 - Last Updated on April 22, 2020

Virginia residents who want to legally wager upon sporting events without leaving their state should hold off on playing Europe’s “The Final Countdown.” Virginia Governor Ralph Northam wants the Assembly to tweak a few items before he gives the bill his signature.

Although the move does delay the bill becoming law, it could be a short one. It looks like legislators are receiving the Gov.’s recommendations well so far.

What changes to the bill does Virginia Governor Ralph Northam want?

The biggest change might be adding NASCAR to the list of sporting enterprises that could apply for licensure with the state. In the bill’s current form, only businesses associated with MLB, MLS, the NBA, the NFL and the NHL could apply.

That means that Martinsville Speedway and Richmond Raceway could theoretically offer wagering through online and retail applications. Northam also wanted the bill to clarify that legal operators can accept wagers on tournaments that involve in-state college teams, just not on specific games within those tournaments that involve such teams.

Northam also wants the Legislature to raise the cost of performing background checks for principal owners of sportsbooks. That’s a common and necessary step when operators apply for licensure or when sportsbooks change hands.

Delegate Marcus Simon, one of the bill’s proponents, is confident that the Legislature will work out a deal satisfactory to all parties. If that’s the case, Gov. Northam could sign the bill into law later this month.

The Legislature plans to reconvene on April 22. Although modifying the bill to appease Northam may not be the first priority, Simon’s confidence suggests both chambers will move on the bill.

Should Northam sign the bill before April turns into May, it would create a race of sorts with Tennessee. Despite legalizing sports betting months prior to VA, TN really wouldn’t be all that far ahead.

Why is there a race to go live and where does TN sit in that race?

Although states legalize sports betting within their borders on an individual basis, there’s no requirement for a bettor to be a legal resident of a state to place wagers there. As long as they meet other eligibility requirements like age and are physically within that state’s borders, they can make their bets.

The first state to get sportsbooks actually up and running has a chance to pull action – and therefore tax dollars – from residents of the other state. Thus if sportsbooks in VA go live first, TN residents may cross the border to place bets there.

TN does have a bit of a head start on VA, however. A draft of regulations for sports betting is awaiting a final vote. The same goes for application forms for sports betting licenses.

VA can’t even think about drafting license forms and rules until Northam signs a bill into law. When it does so, however, it could, in theory, move much more quickly than TN has to finalize those items.

Like TN, VA might also target the anticipated starts of the college football and NFL seasons. If it can accomplish that objective, it might launch legal sportsbooks at the same time as TN.

That would create immediate competition for sportsbooks in both states. The winner in that scenario could be TN and VA residents, as that tends to put pressure on operators to offer better promotions.

All of that rests on the Legislature and Northam resolving these final few points, however. If Simon is correct, the final countdown to legal sports betting in VA might start soon.

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Derek Helling

Derek Helling is a freelance journalist who resides in Chicago. He is a 2013 graduate of the University of Iowa and covers the intersections of sports with business and the law.

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