Virginia Sports Betting Bill A Signature Away From Becoming Law

Posted on March 9, 2020 - Last Updated on April 16, 2020

The Virginia legislature worked overtime over the weekend. A new sports betting bill that is just one step away from becoming law is the result.

It’s unclear right now whether Gov. Ralph Northam intends to ignore, sign or veto the bill. If he allows it to become law or approves it, there will be even more questions.

Details on the 11th-hour bill out of the Virginia legislature

Negotiations on a final framework overcame a Saturday defeat to produce a concurrence late on Sunday. The House and Senate versions had several discrepancies prior to the weekend.

The biggest of those was a ban on wagers on in-state college teams. Unfortunately, that language made it into the final version of the bill.

The bill also would bar legal sportsbooks in the state from taking any prop bets on any college sports, regardless of whether the athletes/teams involved are from the Old Dominion State. The bill has another flaw.

It requires the state’s future licensees to use official data feeds to set their in-game wagers. This is faulty not only because there’s no proof that “official” data is in any way superior to “unofficial” but also because it’s an artificial constraint on an open market for that product.

The bill’s tax rate is 15% and operator licenses initially cost $250,000. The state’s lottery could issue up to 12 online-only licenses along with approving casinos for operating retail books.

With the passage of this bill to Gov. Northam, the clock starts ticking. The VA Constitution says he has seven days to act or the bill becomes law on its own.

Assuming Northam either does nothing or signs the bill, another clock will start at that point. It could put VA in a race with Tennessee.

How VA could actually beat TN to market

Assuming Northam doesn’t veto the bill, VA will have effectively caught up to TN on this matter overnight. Like TN, it will have legalized and started working on forming regulations for future operators.

The bill requires regulators to complete that work by Sept. 15. The state can issue licenses as soon as 60 days after that.

That doesn’t mean sportsbook operators would actually be ready to accept wagers on Nov. 15, however. It may take some additional time for new license holders to get their online and retail platforms compliant and ready to roll.

While that gives TN some extra time to finalize its regulations, issue its licenses and inspect operators for compliance, it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen anytime soon. If TN does win the race to market, it may not be by much.

What’s gumming up the works in TN right now?

The state lottery, currently responsible for drafting regulations for future sportsbook operators in the state, has been very deliberate about that. Because TN will be the first state with legal sports betting completely online, it sees itself as setting a precedent for other similar states to follow.

Whether the lottery will finish that job is currently in dispute. There is a bill in the TN legislature that would transfer the duty of regulating legal sportsbooks to the government-appointed sports betting council.

The state has asked the lottery to delay finalizing its proposed regulations until it decides the fate of that bill. So far, the lottery is compliant.

It’s unclear how long this new consideration will go on. It’s also uncertain whether transferring the regulatory duties would mean another significant delay.

If that proves the case, it becomes more possible that legal sportsbooks might launch in VA before TN. Either way, VA is on the verge of pulling even in that race.

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Derek Helling

Derek Helling is a lead writer for PlayUSA and the manager of BetHer. 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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